Former New York City mayor, political donor and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg was in Anchorage Wednesday, announcing the city is receiving up to one million dollars for a public art project focused on climate change.
Bloomberg spoke to local luminaries, museum staff and city employees in a gallery of the Anchorage Museum, surrounded by contemporary Alaska art and Sydney Lawrence’s iconic “Mount McKinley” painting. The philanthropy program invests in cities that aim to use public art to spur economic development and promote civic dialogue. This year, according to Bloomberg, there were around 200 applicants for the grant.
“Today I’m glad to announce our first winner. And as you may have guessed, Anchorage has won the public art challenge, congratulations,” Bloomberg said to applause from the crowd.
The money will go toward setting up what the city calls the Solutions for Energy and Equity Through Design Lab, or SEED Lab. It will be housed in an empty building downtown near the museum, which will act as a landlord and partner with the city. The idea is to create something between a think-tank and public art space to design projects focused on climate change solutions, according to Museum Director Julie Decker.
Bloomberg sees public art as a catalyst for facilitating urban improvement, something he witnessed during his tenure in New York City.
“I’ve always believed from a business point of view that art is a very smart investment for cities. We have a saying at Bloomberg Philanthropies that culture brings capital faster that capital brings culture. And if you want to take a city that’s down on its luck, start by getting some artists there,” Bloomberg said.
This is not the first time the city has partnered with Bloomberg Philanthropies on a civic project, notably a multi-year grant funding an innovation team at city hall. But the arts are an underdeveloped economic opportunity for the municipality.
“The great works of art in our country, like the Statue of Liberty, they’re iconic,” Berkowitz said. “They remind us of who we are and what we’re supposed to be about. They stimulate the kind of debate that we’re supposed to have. They elevate the quality and tone of our conversation. Anchorage is still looking for that iconic piece of art.”
Bloomberg is widely thought to be exploring a presidential run in 2020. He used part of his remarks to address broad national issues, including democratic gains in congress that he has donated money to, as well as campaigns to change gun laws.