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A Museum without Walls
Philadelphia’s vast public art collection offers a no-charge way to soak up culture
To those accustomed to seeing art displayed only within respectable galleries and museums, Philadelphia delivers a bit of a curve ball. Here, visitors can’t help but notice that a good chunk of the city’s art collection seems to have slipped outdoors, setting up shop on street corners, in city parks… even on the sides of buildings. And, heads up budget travelers, it’s all free for the looking.
From colorful murals to outdoor sculptures, the thousands of pieces of public art bedecking The City of Brotherly Love are among the best in the nation. And that’s no accident. In 1959, Philadelphia became the first municipality to adopt a Percent for Art ordinance, mandating that a portion of the construction costs on city projects go toward art pieces.
It’s impossible not to stumble across dozens of examples of Philly’s public art. However, if you prefer a coordinated plan of attack over serendipitous discovery, here are a few options.
- Take a mile-long stroll down Ben Franklin Parkway, which showcases more than 50 celebrated sculptures. There’s The Thinker by Auguste Rodin, as well as a triumphant Rocky sculpted by A. Thomas Schomberg.
- Located in Logan Square near The Franklin Institute, the Swann Memorial Fountain (designed by Alexander Stirling Calder) is a great place to people-watch during the lunch hour. In addition to its 50-foot geyser and the playful frogs and turtles that spout water, the fountain is adorned with three large Native American figures.
- Just across the street from Logan Square is a bronze sculpture depicting two running —rather scary-looking — dinosaurs. Titled Deinonychus (Kent Ullberg), the sculpture sits in front of The Academy of Natural Sciences.
- No visit to Philly would be complete without a photo op at Robert Indiana’s Love Statue, located in JFK Park (nicknamed “Love Park”).
- Tourists and armchair travelers alike can experience Philly’s public art through a new downloadable audiovisual tour called “Museum Without Walls.” The tour can be accessed via the Internet or iPhone.
- Keep your eyes peeled for murals and learn the story behind the city’s best at www.muralarts.org.