Public art has myriad benefits for its community. It beautifies a neighborhood, encourages engagement, instills a feeling of pride in local residents and inspires discussion. The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation recognized these positive effects when it created its “Art in the Parks” public art program fifty years ago. Since then, the program has showcased more than 2,000 works of art. Now it’s recognizing this milestone fiftieth anniversary with a celebration.


On October 21, the NYC Parks Department will present “It’s Happening!,” a free day of public art and arts activities in Central Park. Taking place in East Pinetum field, the event will provide art lovers and families with more than 100 artworks, hands-on workshops and performances between 11am-3pm.  The workshops, a collaboration with arts organizations and artists, will include paper marbling; creating sketchbooks, wind chimes and mosaics; dancing with Limon Dance Company/ Bryant Park Corp and more.


Sculpture in Environment, Bryant Park, 1967 // photo courtesy of NYC Parks Photo Archive

In 1967, the City decided to infuse art into the daily lives of its people – citizens, tourists and commuters alike. The first project was an exhibition of Tony Smith’s minimalist sculptures (“presences”) in Bryant Park. This, as well as the hundreds or projects that came after it, made contemporary art accessible to everyone – regardless of financial standings or education level – and gave a new forum for emerging artists to reach new audiences. Public spaces in New York City have since become reliable platforms for expression, with installations that have taken over parks, playgrounds and street corners in all five boroughs. The program’s permanent art collection is made up of more than 800 monuments and includes the work of well-known artists such as Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Louise Nevelson.


Temporary installations have brought a range of diverse styles, materials and ideals to the forefront of many peoples’ lives. These works often changed the everyday experiences and perspectives of passersby: Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Gates” installation flooded Central Park with saffron; Francis Hines wrapped the Washington Square Park’s arch in bandages; and Victor Matthews’s “Beyond Metamorphosis” brought 3,000 umbrellas, hand-painted with monarch butterflies, to the grounds of Battery Park.  To find a list and map of current exhibits throughout the City, visit:


artwork by Tom Friedman, 2016

Celebrate public art in New York City on October 21 by entering Central Park at East 84th Street entrance at the East Drive, behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


featured artwork above // OY/YO by Deborah Kass