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With over 170 public artworks, Cambridge holds the largest contemporary public art collection in Massachusetts. Well over one hundred artworks have been publicly sited in Cambridge through the Cambridge Public Art Ordinance since the Ordinance was approved in 1979. Commissioned for capital improvements, the art is lasting evidence of the City's ongoing pursuit to enhance its physical environment. 

Never intended as mere adornment of buildings or spaces, however, the art provides an amenity for diverse groups of citizens. The emphasis is on the people who use the facilities -- on improvement as enrichment of public life. It has been the goal of the Public Art Program from the beginning to respond to the City's diverse communities and most of the artworks have indeed been created in active response to the character and history of their particular places. Behind each is a story, often involving artists in complex exchanges with large numbers of community members. The means of engagement may vary with changing notions of the artist's role in society but the aspiration to respond to public life has remained unchanged throughout the program's two decades.

The current scope of the artist's role in capital projects probably far exceeds people’s expectations in 1979 but the conviction that society will benefit from the added involvement of artists in public life is already proclaimed in the Ordinance. Artists can make a profound contribution to public life, as the Ordinance simply states: "The city wishes to increase the benefits which its citizens will derive from the creative efforts of artists." Whether they add extraordinary elements to the cityscape or more quietly improve upon public spaces in collaboration with architects and urban designers, the creative efforts of artists can heighten the quality of our common experience.

Over the last several years, artists have participated in the design of a great variety of public places in Cambridge, ranging from a water treatment facility to the transformation of a municipal landfill into a public park. This direction continues into a new century, with artists’ involvement as equal partners on design teams or the sole designers of city parks. More information on current projects can be found on this web site, as well as a directory of completed projects.

The direction of the Public Art Program is set by the Public Art Commission in monthly meetings with the Public Art Director. Beyond expanding artistic opportunities through new commissions, a great priority of the Commission is to preserve the art already owned by the City and make it accessible to the citizens. A conservation and maintenance program was initiated in 1996 to provide consistent professional care for the public art collection and an education program was initiated in 1999 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to further the public’s appreciation and understanding of art sited throughout the City.