The Delaware River Waterfront Arts Program

Since its establishment nearly a decade ago, DRWC and its partners have had success bringing public art to the Waterfront. As development momentum continues to build and revitalization efforts move forward, DRWC sees new and greater opportunities for art and culture on the horizon. With those opportunities comes a need for a more intentional process for curating a diverse collection of site-specific works for the Central Delaware River Waterfront, a process that involves artists from the outset and adds a “cultural layer” to the 2011 Master Plan for the Central Delaware, resulting in a clearly defined vision for locating art outside of traditional venues and expanding cultural experiences along the waterfront. This project was funded by the William Penn Foundation

Why? The Program’s Purpose

The purpose of the Delaware River Waterfront Arts Program is to activate Philadelphia’s Delaware River Waterfront with high-quality, innovative public and performance art that embraces non-traditional venues, establishing the Delaware River Waterfront as a cultural destination for the City of Philadelphia. This vision for the program is supported by specific values that the program should uphold and goals for the resulting collection of public art and programming.

As a program, the Waterfront Arts Program aims to:

  • Add value to and encourage reinvestment along the Delaware River Waterfront
  • Strive for equitable opportunities and outcomes of the highest quality
  • Make strategic use of timing and resources
  • Participate as a member of the arts and culture community

Public art and creative programming within DRWC’s six-mile jurisdiction should:

  • Embrace the unique conditions and evolution of the Delaware River Waterfront
  • Create new experiences and relationships between people and place along the Delaware River
  • Be diverse in message and authorship
  • Encompass a broad range of types, scales, forms, and frequency of art
  • Be a catalyst for education and stewardship

Waterfront Arts Project highlights include:

  • Festival of the People, a month-long arts festival that featured interactive installations and events at Cherry Street Pier and Race Street Pier. A partnership between DRWC and Philadelphia ContemporaryFall 2018
  • Blue Sky or Sky Blue? by artist Andrew Herzog and curated by RSG. A sculpture and scientific installation DRWC hosted and facilitated at Race Street Pier. Spring 2019
  • Day of Color at Spruce Street Harbor Park Sustained by Univest featuring a commissioned community mural activity with artist  Mat Tomezko. Spring 2019
  • Tiny Room for Elephants Festival, a weekend-long arts festival featuring artists, poets, and musicians at Cherry Street Pier. Spring 2019
  • Whitman at 200, programming and installations at Cherry Street Pier, the Delaware River, and the Riverlink Ferry facilitated by DRWC. Summer 2019
  • Orchestral Concert presented by Orchestra 2001 featuring a sixty-piece orchestra performing music related to water, rivers, and the waterfront. Summer 2019
  • Exhibitions at Cherry Street Pier which included: Al Bustan Seeds of Culture: An Immigrant Alphabet (Fall 2018  - Summer 2019), The Fellow Exhibition at Cherry Street Pier presented by the Center for Emerging Visual Arts (Spring 2019), Valientes Guerreras (Brave Warriors) “Life Is Not Disposable!” (Summer 2019), and  The Fourth Grade Project by Judy Gelles presented by Pentimenti Gallery (Summer 2019)

What? Context for Public Art & Creative Programming

The cultural narratives and the shifting values that Philadelphians have attributed to the Delaware River Waterfront over time can establish a diverse and inclusive curatorial identity for the future of public art along the Waterfront.

The Waterfront Arts Program explores five eras that represent the major cultural narrative periods of the Waterfront: Lenape Village, Colonial Town, Maker City, Disconnected Metro, and Future Region. It also looks at four primary values that people have given to the physical space of the river and the waterfront: Destination, Connector, Edge, and Livelihood. The Program then examines how these narratives and values intersect as a way to provide both context and provocation for site-specific public and performance art commissioned and developed under the Waterfront Arts Program.

How? Program Implementation

The Waterfront Arts Program envisions new creative works being developed on the waterfront both directly through DRWC-led efforts, and through partnering with or providing guidance to, private and non-profit partners interested in expanding the cultural programming along the waterfront.

For those works that are directly commissioned through the Waterfront Arts Program, the program envisions four project types:

  • Major Works (permanent or semi-permanent works within the public realm)
  • Annual Programming (creative programming and performances that happens yearly, or continuing throughout the year)
  • Special Programs (one-off festivals, competitions, performances, etc.)
  • Pre-Development Activation (visual or performance art intended to animate a long-vacant site, stimulate reinvestment, and/or document a valued site at risk of disappearing)

The Waterfront Arts Program is based on a framework for the implementation ideas for each of these types of work. Roles are included for DRWC Board and Staff, partner organizations, outside curators, juries, and/or advisory panels, and the City of Philadelphia, and recommends methods for selecting artists and creative works (such as open calls, direct commissions, curator-driven, etc.) that can be adopted on a case-by-case basis. The Program will include evaluation and documentation, conservation and maintenance, stewardship and public participation, and communication.

Where? Areas of Opportunity

The intention of the Program is not to provide “X marks the spot” locations for where art should go, but instead to provide a number of resources to use in discerning art locations:

  • Cultural Landscape Lenses: Location of the erased, existing, and eventual culturally significant places along the Delaware River Waterfront
  • Implementation Patterns: Analysis of existing on-the-ground conditions and functional urban landscape patterns impacting the Delaware River Waterfront.

The program is based on the potential of numerous sites throughout the six-mile planning jurisdiction to house or host public art, and highlights those that are identified as part of DRWC’s pipeline for investment in the next several years or that have active plans for redevelopment where the Waterfront Arts Program could play a role in integrating creative work through an advisory capacity.