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.
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.
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.