New Castle County is taking a page out of the City of Brotherly Love’s playbook in an effort to add art and creativity to its streets and neighborhoods.
The County Council this week unanimously passed Councilwoman Dee Durham’s Ordinance 23-160 to create a Public Arts Commission.
The legislation took inspiration from Philadelphia’s 1% for Art program, which requires new city construction or major renovation projects to include site-specific public art in the amount of up to 1% of the total budget.
Each member of a new nine-person Public Arts Commission will come from museums, foundations, universities or will be artists themselves, and will have a strong interest to bring more art into public spaces, according to Ken Hemphill, Durham’s legislative assistant.
Although there is no funding element attached to the commission, Hemphill said the County Council will be working with Meyer to phase in several steps which will provide funding and opportunities for public art.
“The creation of the Public Arts Commission was the first step,” he said.
The board members would be unpaid, he said, but there is a proposal by several council members to pay all county boards and commission members.
The commission will:
- Serve as an advisory body for the procurement and location of visual public art on county property
- Acquire works of art for public spaces by the county
- Review conservation and relocation plans for county-owned sculptures and public works of art, installations and exhibitions
- Play a significant role in shaping policies and strategies to integrate permanent and semi-permanent visual arts into county community spaces and development projects.
Five of the commission’s members will be appointed by the County Council with the advice and consent of County Executive.
The executive will appoint the other four members with the advice and consent of the County Council.
Specifically, the commission will consist of:
- At least one representative from visual arts organizations, including art museums within the county
- At least two county residents who are visual artists or who have a demonstrated involvement in public art
- At least one seat from the faculty/governing body of an institution with art or architecture programs
- At least one representative from a non-profit organization engaged in supporting the visual arts
- At least one registered landscape architect
- The director of the Delaware Art Museum or their designee
“By encouraging public art, the commission will serve as a civic catalyst, create a welcoming sense of place, and enhance the quality of life of all community members, especially underserved populations,” Durham said. “By equitably engaging in the development and promotion of public art activities, the commission will stimulate neighborhood revitalization while helping to address social and economic inequalities in our communities.”
Hemphill said that “public art” refers to permanent and semi-permanent types of pieces such as murals, statues, sculptures, paintings, installations and more displayed in or on government buildings, properties, parks, libraries and even new developments where feasible.
“The Public Arts Commission will as a board advise the county government on the purchase, acquisition and procurement of pieces,” he said.
The ordinance cites data showing that public art stimulates tourism revenue.
“According to the Delaware State Tourism Office’s 2021 Value of Tourism Report, 39% of overnight visitors to New Castle County engaged in cultural activities,” the ordinance says. “Visitors spent a total of $2.52 billion, and Delaware’s economy was able to keep 66 cents of each tourism dollar spent in the state.
“By encouraging more tourism, the Public Arts Commission will be an economic driver through job creation, generating tax revenue, stimulating business activity, and boosting area property values.”
Durham said that enhancing the county’s public spaces also will be a boon to local visual artists and will serve as a vital platform to enhance artistic expression, creativity, equitable representation and cultural enrichment in the public realm.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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