One of two windows making up Cooper O’Neil’s “This Place” in the children’s section of Lovett Library.

by Diane Fiske

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the innovative Philadelphia program requiring one percent of the cost of renovation or construction of any building using public land to finance a work of art in the space. The program began in 1959.

A celebration of the 60th anniversary of Philadelphia’s Percent for Art program, which will include a display of copies of some of the examples of art, will be part of a special event at the Center for Architecture, also the home of the Philadelphia American Institute of Architecture, on Thursday, Nov. 7 at noon. The public is welcome.

Colorful stained-glass windows at Lovett Memorial Library in Mount Airy became part of the program this year after the library finished an ambitious renovation project in December of 2017 that cost $9 million.

According to Margot Berg, public art director for the city of Philadelphia, “The reason for the inclusion in the program is that the Lovett library was recently renovated and modernized.”

The fact that the Lovett Library was renovated triggered the one percent requirement, which states that any new development involving land acquired through the Philadelphia redevelopment authority include a budget of one percent of construction costs dedicated to a work of public art on the site.

John R. Keller was the architect of the renovation, turning the 130-year-old library into a comfortable place with access for children and teens as well as the handicapped. There is also a new computer room with modern equipment.

Works of art by Cooper O’Neil were installed in windows in Lovett Library. The art was one of the most recent additions to the percent program.

The art by O’Neil is made up of stained-glass windows, which the artist said, “explore how to bring new light and color to contemporary spaces.”

O’Neil’s work in the library consists of “Explore,” three horizontal windows in the program room, and “This Place,” two vertical windows in the children’s library.

Berg’s office issued a statement that read, “Both stained glass pieces draw upon architectural elements from the immediate Mt. Airy community and are intended to joyfully engage with the public.”

O’Neil added that the windows, he felt, “reflect the community’s love of its natural surroundings as well as the joy of exploration and imagination.”

The stained glass panels at Lovett are made up of 500 pieces of glass in vertical panels in the library.

Philadelphia’s Percent for Art program was the first in the country. In the 60 years since it was established, the program has created more than 600 pieces of public art. Other cities have been inspired to start their own art program.

Ed Bacon, who was director of the city’s planning commission at the time, worked with Michael von Moschzisker, head of the redevelopment authority, to get the program started. Both said they wanted to make sure buildings in Philadelphia included aesthetic considerations.

“We are obligated to make sure our new cities are places of which we can be proud,” Bacon said.

In 1959, it was required that site-specific public art would be installed in every new construction or major renovation using land that had been public. Gregory Heller, the current chairman of the Philadelphia redevelopment authority, wrote a book in which Bacon, the noted planner, said von Moschziskers’ vision “would facilitate a mutually beneficial partnership between artists, developers and architects that would enhance buildings and public spaces.”

Berg said that Philadelphia celebrates public art in every medium, including sculpture, paintings, photographs and murals, in every area of the city.

The charge, she said, is to commission site-specific public art that responds specifically to public spaces and communities.

This is also highlighted in a new online map so interested people can learn more about the artists, the location and details about the artwork in the program in selfguided tours through the city.

Hill resident Diane Fiske writes about architecture and urban planning for the Inquirer and monthly for the Local. Her column, Streetscape, is a local column about architecture, urban planning and design.