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These 5 public art projects just won $1 million each to spark discussion about social issues

The winners of this year’s Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge examine gun violence, climate change, and food equity.

These 5 public art projects just won $1 million each to spark discussion about social issues
[Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/iStock]

In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, the cities of Coral Springs and Parkland, Florida proposed and won their own grant for a joint partnership to expand art therapy services for those affected by gun violence. The Coral Springs Museum will build on an existing art therapy program with workshops and community talks, and help coordinate the creation and installation of a series of large installations throughout the affected communities.

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The project is one of five winners of  the Bloomberg Philanthropy’s Public Art Challenge, now in its second year. The Challenge awards $1 million each to five cities to create public art that explores some pressing social issue.

Jackson, Mississippi, a city where cheap and unhealthy eating options at gas stations and fast food restaurants vastly outnumber healthier alternatives–and residents suffer from widespread food insecurity–will launch an initiative called “Fertile Ground: Inspiring Dialogue About Food Access” that creates “installations, performances, and programming” around the importance of nutrition and food equity. The resulting artwork doesn’t exist yet but Jackson has already compiled a series of basic visual comparisons that highlight just how sad, compelling, and bleak the situation is there. See the slideshow below.

The other three winners are Anchorage, Alaska, where SEED Lab, a downtown cultural center, is focused on creative ways to increase awareness and prototype solutions to climate change; Tulsa, where new projects will honor city’s historic Greenwood District, better known as a once vibrant Black Wall Street before being decimated by racial prejudice, deadly hate crimes, and harmful urban planning; and Camden, New Jersey, where a multiplicity of vacant lots become various kinds of community gathering places with different kinds of art and programming for each previously abandoned space.

Each proposal is designed to both address related civic issues and bolster the local economy. That’s an idea that’s proven out: Bloomberg’s last Public Art Challenge ran in 2014 and eventually led to an estimated $13 million in economic growth across the four areas where projects were installed.  So Bloomberg re-upped the idea in February 2018 with this competition that drew more than 200 entries from cities with at least 30,000 or more people. At its core, art is meant to be talked about. The hope is that more discussion leads to positive change–and perhaps a model for what’s possible elsewhere.

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About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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