One Percent for Art Ordinance: in Philly, a percentage of all public construction costs must go to art

In Hawthorne Park at 12th and Catharine in South Philadelphia, this lectern was commissioned to commemorate a speech in 1965 that Martin Luther King Jr. gave on that spot when it was a housing project. It was funded as part of the city’s ‘One Percent for Art’ ordinance.

Visiting the freshly renovated Hawthorne Park in South Philadelphia recently had me reading casual references to this city’s celebrated, half-century old One Percent for Art Ordinance. Though I’ve come to know it and it’s often called a major reason for this city’s reputation for public art, I haven’t been able to find much writing of its roots.

Since so many other cities have followed this trend, I thought it was worth sussing out where the idea originated.

After the Martin Luther King. Jr. projects were demolished in 1999. The pledged Hawthorne Park wasn’t opened until this summer. For the ensuing decade, the property was an empty lot, as seen above, from a Google Images screenshot dated from August 2009.

Since City Council passed in December 1959 the ordinance, which was championed by then Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority chairman and Philly native Michael von Moschzisker, who died in 1995, one percent of all public building project costs must be earmarked for public art. Hundreds of sculptures and murals have been funded, including ‘the Clothespin,’ and recently the less permanent idea of a festival was trialed.

“Sterility and her handmaiden, monotony, must be banished,” von Moschzisker said in a speech at the time of introduction.

Read more about the project here and here.

For the $2.1 million Hawthorne Park project, presumably at least $21,000 was used to fund the pictured-at-top piece of art that resembles a pulpit or lectern and is meant to commemorate a speech that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave on that spot in 1965 when it was still outside of a housing project.

The U.S. government and hundreds of municipalities have followed the model, which relies on a belief that communities are better formed in more beautiful places.