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Art aflame: Artist selected for installation at rebuilt Tacony fire station

Artwork and firefighting certainly seem like odd bedfellows. That hasn't stopped Philadelphia's Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy, along with the city fire department and other agencies, from striving to meld the two. This is evident in Tacony, where Suikang Zhao was recently chosen to design an art installation at the new Engine 38 fire station and community center.

The art installation will reflect Tacony's history and firefighting heritage. Margot Berg, a public art director in the Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy, lists a number of elements that Zhao is expected to include. Among these works are two-dimensional bronze displays of antique fire engines, a historic fire alarm, representations of some of Tacony's most distinct buildings, and models of Tacony saw blades. The latter is paying homage to the Disston Saw Works, which at one time was the world's largest saw blade manufacturer, located in Tacony.

Zhao is an acclaimed artist whose work is recognized worldwide. "He has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards, and has public art commissions in Phoenix and San Diego, among other cities," gleams Berg. Zhao's work, which ranges from sculptures, to paintings, to mobile image and sound installations, has also been featured in the New York Times.

Berg points out that this display is part of Philadelphia's "Percent for Art" program, which mandates that at least one percent of a city-financed project's budget go toward public art. What's so unique about this pubic project is that new firehouses don't often get built in the city.

The recollection and teaching of history is one of the overarching goals of this art installation. "The artwork will provide an opportunity for residents to learn about the history of Tacony and of fire fighting, and to see a reflection of their history and community in the Engine 38 site," says the art director. Not surprisingly, the Tacony Historical Society was instrumental in deciding what kind of art would be featured.

Engine 38 is being rebuilt after it was displaced due to the I-95 reconstruction. The firehouse and community center combination will be a LEED-certified building in a neighborhood that doesn't have very many of those. There is still a while before Zhao's art is expected to be completed, as the Office of Arts is projecting completion by autumn, 2012.

Source: Margot Berg, Philadelphia's Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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