aPA Speaks Out Against Censorship of Fireflies

In July, the mayor of Coral Gables, Florida, Vince Lago, urged the city’s commissioners to condition city funding for the 2022 Illuminate Coral Gables art festival on the exclusion of two participating artists – Cai Guo-Qiang and Sandra Ramos – because of their purported political views. The commission subsequently voted to provide funding for the art festival as long as Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies and Ramos’ 90 Miles: De-construction 2011-2021 were removed from the program. In order to protect the integrity of the work and reject such a blatant act of censorship, Lance Fung resigned as the chief curator and the whole 2022 edition of the show was canceled.

The role of the artist and art in society is an important one, and suppressing artistic expression is not an acceptable position

The Association for Public Art (aPA) with Fung Collaboratives originally commissioned Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies in 2017, to great acclaim in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of Philadelphia’s historic Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Fireflies brought the public together for free rides in 27 unique artist-designed pedicabs that traversed this grand boulevard at night.

Fireflies was applauded for its egalitarian, equitable and democratic values that are the heart of artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s work,” affirms Penny Balkin Bach, aPA’s Executive Director and Chief Curator. Therefore, aPA was disturbed and disappointed to learn about the recent censorship of the artist by barring his artwork from Illuminate Coral Gables in 2022. The Coral Gables Mayor has made assumptions that are irrelevant and have nothing to do with the artist’s right to freely exhibit his work.

The role of the artist and art in society is an important one, and suppressing artistic expression is not an acceptable position. We were reminded, upon aPA’s recent reinstallation of artist Gerhard Marcks’ Maja (1942) sculpture, that political figures in Nazi Germany openly censored Marcks, banned him from exhibiting his work, and labeled him a “Degenerate Artist” based on grotesque, speculative, and political assertions. We should not repeat the mistakes of the past.

The National Coalition Against Censorship has released a statement condemning the Mayor’s action, and aPA has signed it, among other artists, organizations, and arts & culture leaders. The aPA opposes the decision that was made by the Coral Gables Mayor and unequivocally stands behind the curatorial team, the artists, and their first amendment rights.

Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies in downtown Coral Gables, Florida from February to March 2021 for the first iteration of Illuminate Coral Gables. This interactive artwork was commissioned by the Association for Public Art (aPA) with Fung Collaboratives for Philadelphia in 2017. Photo John Talley, courtesy Fung Collaboratives.


About the Association for Public Art

The Association for Public Art (aPA, formerly Fairmount Park Art Association) commissions, preserves, interprets, and promotes public art in Philadelphia. The aPA is the nation’s first private nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a “Museum Without Walls” that informs, engages, and inspires diverse audiences. Established in 1872, aPA integrates public art and urban design through exemplary programs and advocacy efforts that connect people with public art.

IMAGE AT THE TOP: The opening celebration of Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies in Philadelphia in 2017. Thousands gathered on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to watch a public performance of the artist-designed pedicabs. Following the performance, participants received free rides up and down the City’s grand boulevard. Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies was commissioned by the Association for Public Art (aPA) with Fung Collaboratives on the occasion of the Parkway’s centennial, with major support from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Photo © Jeff Fusco Photography.

Related Artworks


Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies


by Cai Guo-Qiang (b. 1957)

Benjamin Franklin Parkway

The internationally renowned artist Cai Guo-Qiang draws on memories of the traditional lantern festivals of his childhood for his latest site-specific project.

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