Ask Benny: Is it a bus stop? No, it’s public art

Dear Benny:

What’s up with that new piece of public art on 40th Street? It looks like an ill-conceived bus stop. Can you explain how Penn decides to spend the 1 percent for public art?

— Curious

Dear Perplexed by Public Art:

The “ill-conceived bus stop” is actually a piece of public art by sculptor Andrea Blum entitled “Plateau.” Though we agree it looks a little bleak right now, by spring you should see plenty of Penn folk interacting with the concrete and steel “outdoor lounge.”

The 150-foot-long series of seats, tables and pavilions looks at first blush like just another spot to sit and eat your lunch. But step a little closer and you’ll notice some oddities, such as the fact that many of the seats have their backs to the table rather than facing them. “There is some ambiguity, and that was all seen as very positive—it’s all part of how she does what she does so eloquently,” says Susan Miller Davis, director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s Fine Arts Program, which was responsible for picking the piece and getting it installed as part of the “One Percent for Fine Arts” program.

That program requires that 1 percent of the total construction costs of redeveloped land be dedicated to public art. In this case, the funds had been put aside from the Sansom Commons development in the late ’90s, whose public art component never materialized.

Blum, says Davis, was chosen after a long selection process involving a volunteer committee of teachers and arts professionals, as well as representatives from Penn. The choice was unanimous.

Originally published on February 9, 2006