Established in 1872 by two civic-minded young men, Henry K. Fox and Charles Howell, the Association for Public Art (aPA, formerly the Fairmount Park Art Association) initially focused on enhancing Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park with sculpture. The organization’s concerns soon expanded beyond the park to the city as a whole.

A young girl poses with the Billy sculpture from 1919
A young girl poses with Albert Laessle’s “Billy” (1914). Photo © 1919, Association for Public Art

The aPA has supported planning projects such as the design of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a grand boulevard punctuated by outdoor sculpture; the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial along Kelly Drive and the Schuylkill River; and the International Sculpture Garden at Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River.

The aPA also advocated the establishment of the city’s Art Jury (the forerunner of the current Art Commission) and the adoption of the country’s first “percent for art” ordinance under which a percentage of construction costs for city projects must be set aside for fine arts.

Today, through its diverse programs, the aPA continues to promote the important role that public art plays in the creation and enhancement of civic spaces. We serve thousands of people directly through our commissioning and educational programs, and even more indirectly, as they benefit from the accessibility of public art that is one of Philadelphia’s hallmarks and a key contributor to its quality of life.

Name Change

In May 2012, the Board and membership of the Fairmount Park Art Association voted to change the name of the organization to the Association for Public Art. The name Association for Public Art (aPA) more clearly communicates our long-established mission to commission, preserve, interpret, and promote public art in Philadelphia. When it was founded in 1872 by a group of civic-minded individuals as the first private nonprofit organization in the United States dedicated to placing art in public spaces, the Association’s initial purpose was to enhance Fairmount Park with sculpture. Its concerns grew beyond the park to the city as a whole, and the Charter was amended in 1906 to express an expanded purview; but the name of our organization was not changed to reflect this wider mission. The organization has continually evolved throughout its 150-year history, proactively responding to developments in civic life, urban planning, and artistic expression. Our new name was chosen to best reflect our work and to distinguish our organization from other local and national public art agencies

Central Terrace of the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial.
The Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial on Kelly Drive. Photo Caitlin Martin © 2010 for the Association for Public Art.

Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial

The Association for Public Art (formerly the Fairmount Park Art Association) established and maintains the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial (1933-1961) on Kelly Drive. The Memorial is comprised of three terraces and seventeen sculptures that were commissioned over a period of thirty years. To identify the sculptors, three Sculpture International exhibitions were held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, bringing together the works of hundreds of sculptors from the United States and abroad. The sculptures in the Memorial are all emblematic of the history of America, and created by well-known artists such as J. Wallace Kelly, Helene Sardeau, and Jacques Lipchitz.

Form and Function

To bridge the gap between public art and ordinary life, the Fairmount Park Art Association (now the Association for Public Art) initiated the pioneering program Form and Function in 1980. The aPA invited artists to propose public art projects for Philadelphia that would be utilitarian, site-specific, and integral to community life – works that would be integrated into the public context through use as well as placement. Each artist was asked to give meaning or identity to a place, to probe for the genius loci, or the “spirit of the place.” 

Central Terrace of the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial.

Participating in the first ever comprehensive survey of America’s outdoor sculpture

The Association for Public Art (aPA) was the local coordinating agency for SOS! (Save Outdoor Sculpture!) (1990-1995), a national survey project conducted by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art and Heritage Preservation. SOS!was created to inventory and assess the condition of the nation’s outdoor sculpture and to encourage communities to accept responsibility for the ongoing care and professional conservation of their sculptures.

Working in cooperation with the City of Philadelphia Art Commission, the Association for Public Art recruited and supervised volunteers to survey more than 700 outdoor works in the Philadelphia area. This information, together with that collected by SOS! volunteers nationwide, is part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s online Inventory of American Sculpture database – a permanent, comprehensive record of the nation’s outdoor sculpture.

SOS! was supported by major contributions from Target Stores, National Endowment for the Arts, Pew Charitable Trusts, Getty Grant Program, and Henry Luce Foundation, among others.

Ed Levine's "Embodying Thoreau" hut in Pennypack Park
Embodying Thoreau: dwelling, sitting, watching by Ed Levine. Photo Gregory Benson for the Association for Public Art.


New•Land•Marks: public art, community, and the meaning of place was a program of the Fairmount Park Art Association (now the Association for Public Art) that brought together artists and community organizations to plan and create new works throughout Philadelphia. Proposals incorporated public art into ongoing community development, urban greening, public amenities, and other revitalization initiatives. These efforts celebrated community identity, commemorated “untold” histories, and offered visionary, yet reasonable, ways to invigorate public spaces.

We have been passionate about public art in Philadelphia since 1872

See our timeline