Wednesday, November 16

More Than Just A Playground: Parks and Recreation's 'Art in the Parks'

Sarah Sze's Still Life With Landscape (Model for a Habitat) is currently on display at The High Line until June 2012 (photo courtesy of

To many, a park is just an area of open space providing recreational use. A basketball court, maybe a soccer field, and definitely a playground, that is all that many park dwellers ask for. But, a park can be much more.

When walking through the High Line between West 20th and 21st Streets, the elevated urban park suddenly meets two stainless steel metal-rod and wooden volume sculptures. Entitled Still Life With Landscape (Model for a Habitat), the sculpture forms an open archway framing views to the north and south of New York City and mimics the High Line's strong movement trajectory through shooting perspective lines. Sarah Sze's highly architectural work is just one of twenty-two art exhibits currently on display in public parks that are a part of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation's program, "Art in the Parks."

With a capital budget of $2 billion, the Parks and Recreation, or Parks Department is responsible for maintaining the 28,000 acres of city's parks system of nearly 5,000 properties including more than 1,800 parks and nearly 1,000 playgrounds. With an operation budget of $340 million, the agency also commits to preserve and maintain the ecological diversity of the city's natural areas and furnishing recreational opportunities for city's residents and visitors. In 1967, the Parks Department began to commit to public art by establishing "Art in the Parks."

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of "Art in the Parks," American sculptor Tom Otterness' Large Sad Sphere was installed at the Hudson River Park from October 1, 2007 to January 5, 2008 (photo courtesy of

According to the Parks Department website, the intention of the public art program is to "use public space as an outdoor museum, letting works of art loose in the city, to set them under the light of day where they intrude upon our daily walks and errands.”

Debuting with an exhibition of Tony Smith's minimalist geometric sculptures in Bryant Park, "Art in the Parks" did not gain recognition until the installation of
Sculpture in Environment, an outdoor group exhibition of contemporary sculpture. Displaying the works of 24 artists, including Claes Oldenburg, Barnett Newman, and Louise Nevelson, sculptures were installed at 9 city park locations and 15 public spaces.

With an undisclosed budget, "Art in the Parks"
is mainly supported by a combination of donations from local businesses and loans of art by commercial galleries. In 1972, the Public Art Fund, a non-profit organization, was established in order to provide artists opportunities to create and display art in public settings. As a result, "Art in the Parks" has been able to install a variety of art, from steel constructions, installations made from an assortment of organic biodegradable media, monumental abstract sculptures to community murals, by artists like Keith Haring, Arturo DiModica, and Barry Flanagan.

In 2007, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of "Art in the Parks," the Parks Department presented 40 art installations, many of which were displayed in the past including Robert Indiana's Love Wall, Tom Otterness' Large Sad Sphere, and Cheryl Farber Smith's Leaning Firm.

"Art in the Parks" has displayed over 1,000 temporary exhibitions in the city open spaces. As the Parks Department continue to foster the creation and installation of temporary public art in parks throughout the five boroughs through collaborations with a diverse group of arts organizations and artists, "Art in the Parks" continues to enhance the beauty of New York City with both experimental and traditional art.

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