Endangered species–public art at PA Convention Center

When people bark about the threat of a public art void at the Convention Center extension (see Stephan Salisbury’s article in today’s Inquirer here), they seem to be all over the place on just what they mean by public. For instance, art inside the building? That is not public. I don’t think too many Philadelphians ever get to see the so-called “public art” in Convention Center part 1.

Mei-ling Hom, China Wedge, 1994, inside the PA Convention Center; image borrowed from Hom

If you check out the Convention Center website, the art that’s inside is not mentioned, or if it is, I couldn’t find it. The sad truth is no one buys a week of conventioneering in Philadelphia because of the art inside the Convention Center. The purpose of the website is to sell convention space.

Google is barely more effective finding images of art at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.  A couple of pieces come up, but buried deep in the onslaught of images. Google Judith Shea and St. Louis public art comes up, but not Philadelphia public art. Mei-ling Hom’s China Wedge is super-successful as a piece of public art–it’s understandable to a broad audience, it’s elegant and it’s witty. It, too, took a bit of hunting on Google. So did the Judy Pfaff, which doesn’t nearly begin to dominate the huge hangar of Reading Terminal.


It’s not that I think there shouldn’t be a public art component to compensate us Philadelphians for the way the state imposed on us this horrible building which totally deadens a major segment of the streetscape in Center City. Yes. We the Philadelphia public deserve at least some sort of bold public art component–on the street–paid for by the state and I’m not talking about a mural.

Furthermore, the amount of money has to be substantial. We have far too many public sculptures done on the cheap, with cheap results.

Unfortunately, the public art component (should we be lucky enough to get one) would have the Herculean task of enlivening the Convention Center dead zone, providing a sense of place and a sense of public ownership–a sense of public interaction with whatever is there. For a public sculpture to be meaningful to visitors, it first has to be meaningful to the people who live with it, i.e. all of us Philadelphians. So if I raise my voice for public art, I am raising it for the exterior, for the streetscape, for my fellow citizens on whom the monstrosity building has been perpetrated.


And I am raising my voice for enough money so the artist can build a dream project and still pocket some money.

As usual, when money runs short, art gets cut. Next time, just cut the building and build the art, pay the artist, and serve the public for a change.