“Public Art in Philadelphia,” free lecture by Penny Balkin Bach on Sept. 15

By Caitlin Burns | September 6, 2016

Arcadia University is pleased to present a free public lecture by Penny Balkin Bach, the executive director and chief curator of the Association for Public Art (aPA). Scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m. in the Great Room of the University Commons, Bach’s talk, entitled “Public Art in Philadelphia: Origins, Twists, and Trajectories,” will offer an illustrated history of public art in Philadelphia, home of one the largest and most significant collections of public art in America.

Bach’s lecture launches “Exploring Public Art: Legacy, Community & Innovation,” a series of free programs held this fall to engage the community about a public art project at the Glenside Station underpass. To be completed in the summer of 2017 by Philadelphia-based muralist David Guinn in conjunction with a class at Arcadia, the project’s final form and theme will be determined through meetings with community stakeholders. 

 In addition to explaining how and why Philadelphia came to possess one of the most outstanding collections of public art in the world, Bach’s presentation will discuss the many individuals that have informed, influenced and supported public art in the region, including Arcadia’s own Benton Spruance (1904-67). Esteemed printmaker, educator, and chair of the art department from 1934 to 1967, Spruance played an instrumental role—along with architect Louis Khan, lawyer Raymond Speiser, and Councilman Henry Sawyer, among others—in helping to make Philadelphia the first U.S. city to adopt influential initiatives that require one percent of new construction to be set aside for the commission of public art.

Bach’s lecture will also survey the diversity of contemporary public art by referencing the pioneering and forward-thinking attitudes of civic leaders, as well as artists working in a surprising array of media. Mindful of the goal of the lecture series to stimulate community discussion about the Glenside train station underpass project, Bach remarked, “My experience speaking to general audiences is that they become more curious and optimistic by understanding that they—citizens, artists, culture drivers—are part of a longstanding tradition that has always sought new ways to respond to the conditions of a given time and place.” According to Bach, “What distinguishes public art is the unique association of how it is made, where it is, and what it means. Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions.” 

The aPA, formerly the Fairmount Park Art Association, is the nation’s first private non-profit public art organization (chartered in 1872) to integrate public art and urban planning. The aPA commissions, preserves, interprets, and promotes public art in Philadelphia through exemplary and innovative programs and advocacy efforts. Recent efforts led by Bach include the 2012 presentation of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s OPEN AIR (a vast, interactive work employing 24 powerful, automated spotlights pointed at the night sky), the permanent acquisition in 2015 of Roxy Paine’s Symbiosis (a pair of life-size, stainless steel trees for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway), and plans to bring Martin Puryear’s monumental temporary wooden sculpture Big Bling to Philadelphia in 2017.

“Exploring Public Art: Legacy, Community & Innovation” Continues with these Events:

Friday, Sept. 23 at 7:00 p.m., Michelle Angela Ortiz, a Philadelphia-based visual artist, muralist, and community arts educator, will present her documentary Aqui y Alla (2012) in Stiteler Auditorium.

Monday, Oct. 10 at 6:30 p.m., “What Makes a Successful Mural?” panel discussion including David Guinn, Philadelphia-based mural artist Jon Laidacker, and Amber Art and Design, and moderated by Elizabeth Ferrell, assistant professor at Arcadia University in the Great Room.

Saturday, Oct. 22 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., tour Philadelphia’s master murals, guided by the Mural Arts Program. The bus tour will leave Arcadia’s campus and focus on murals in the Latino neighborhoods of Fishtown and Kensington.

Monday, Nov. 14 at 6:30 p.m., Nato Thompson, artistic director at Creative Time in New York, will discuss the social dimensions of public art in the Great Room.

For more information about these events, please visit arcadia.edu/PublicArt.

More about the speaker:
Penny Balkin Bach is the Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Association for Public Art (aPA, formerly the Fairmount Park Art Association). She currently serves on the Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Council for the City of Philadelphia, where she is Chair of the City’s Public Art Advisory Committee, and has previously served on the national Public Art Network (PAN) Council, an advisory body to the Americans for the Arts. Bach is well known for her work with artists and for her innovative approaches to connecting public art with its audiences. She supports the creation of opportunities for new works by artists and creative professionals, promotes the interpretation of art in public spaces, and advocates for the responsible stewardship of public art. Bach has been a participant on numerous local, national, and international public art juries and conservation advisory committees.

Bach is the Executive Producer of Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO, a multi-platform, interactive, award-winning audio guide created to engage the public with Philadelphia’s preeminent collection of outdoor sculpture. The author of the landmark book, Public Art in Philadelphia (1992), she has written and lectured extensively about public art and the environment.

In 2013 Bach received the national College Art Association’s Public Art Dialogue (PAD) Award for Achievement in the Field of Public Art, and was the recipient of the inaugural Tyler Tribute Award for “her unparalleled contributions to public art in the City of Philadelphia and to global awareness of the importance of art in our society.”

Bach received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the Moore College of Art & Design. She is a BFA graduate of Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, and received an MA in Visual Communications and Social Organization from Goddard College in Vermont. She pursued graduate studies in fine arts and design at the Allgemeine Gewerbeschule in Basel, Switzerland.