Bloomberg Public Art Challenge funding will help Phoenix and Salt Lake City address climate change, and Houston examine homelessness, through temporary public art that engages artists and community members.
PHOENIX—Three Southwest cities recently won the 2023 Bloomberg Public Art Challenge issued by Bloomberg Philanthropies in New York as a way to “develop temporary public art projects that address local civic issues.” Houston, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City are among eight cities that will receive $1 million each for projects being realized during the next two years.
Both Phoenix and Salt Lake City plan to use those funds to address climate change, while Houston will focus its work on homelessness. The news comes as the U.S. Government highlights its latest report on the national and regional risks and impacts of climate change, including the ramifications of drought on the Southwest’s cultural heritage, economies, health, and more.
“Climate change is an issue on everybody’s mind,” says Felicia Baca, director for the Salt Lake City Arts Council, which is part of the city’s Department of Economic Development. “It’s a topic we see come up often in our city-run art gallery, and it’s being discussed by other artists from dancers to filmmakers.”
According to Baca, concerns about climate change in Utah often center around the Great Salt Lake, where Robert Smithson built his massive Spiral Jetty earthwork in 1970. “The lake is an important part of our collective ethos, and it’s a big part of our economy and ecosystem here.” After Stephen Kesler installed his massive Out of the Blue whale sculpture in 2022 in Salt Lake City, some community members embraced it as a symbol of climate change, Baca adds.
Like other Bloomberg Public Art Challenge recipients, Salt Lake City is in the early stages of implementing its award-winning proposal but knows what they’re hoping to accomplish. “We want this to be a public awareness campaign that spurs people to take action,” explains Baca. “It needs to reach people who aren’t aware of the impacts of climate change, as well as people who think it’s not an important issue and even people who are detractors.”
In 2024, Salt Lake City will present one temporary artwork funded by the Bloomberg award in each of its city council districts, then unveil a larger project in 2025, with artists chosen through a request for proposal process. “We’re hoping to see a broad range of media,” says Baca. “We already have a permanent public art infrastructure so audio-visual and performative projects are really exciting to us.”
Like Utah’s largest city, Phoenix plans to create projects funded by the Bloomberg award in every city council district. According to Mitch Menchaca, director for the City of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, the projects will be placed in public parks where officials have identified the need to mitigate urban heat effects.
Four are scheduled to go up in summer 2024, and another four in summer 2025. The city will reveal a final artwork during a festival scheduled for September 20, 2025, at Steele Indian School Park, where the other temporary works will also be part of something Menchaca likens to a “public art petting zoo.”
For Phoenix, which garnered international headlines this summer after breaking its annual heat record with more than fifty-three days of over 110 degrees, the Bloomberg award could lead to new ways of utilizing art to address extreme heat.
“Our public art program has a history of work on artist-designed shade structures and there are several of these designs in our current public art plan,” explains Menchaca. “Working with temporary art will give us more flexibility to explore other ideas and imagine how solutions could look in the future.”
For Carrie Brown, deputy director for the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, the award represents a chance to build on past successes. “This is a great opportunity to expand on the work we’ve already done and explore new strategies as we’re moving forward,” says Brown.
Menchaca is particularly excited about engaging members of the public. “We really want to get the community involved rather than just calling for art and then picking something to go in a park,” he says. In terms of which artists might get selected, Menchaca notes that Bloomberg asked the city to open its calls to local, state, national, and international artists.
Meanwhile, the City of Houston will use its Bloomberg award to explore the issue of homelessness. “We’re thinking about ways to use art as an intervention,” explains Theresa Escobedo, program manager of civic arts at the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, who adds that they expect to launch their project during the first quarter of 2024.
“We hope our work will inspire other neighborhoods and cities to think about even small projects that can help to address homelessness,” explains Cynthia Alvarado, director of operations and strategic planning with the Midtown Management District, who was part of the team that put together the Bloomberg award proposal.
It’s a sentiment expressed by other Southwest recipients.
“We’re looking for solutions that we can share with other communities,” says Phoenix’s Mitch Menchaca. “We’re very interested in sharing lessons learned.”