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Innovation & Job News

A Dutch art duo use GPS and digital audio to document the spirit of the city

PolakvanBekkum are at work on a public art project at the Science Center

Here's a little-known fact about Philadelphia's history as an urban innovator: The Percent for Art program, in which developers building on municipally-acquired land are required to spend at least 1 percent of their construction costs on public art, was pioneered by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority back in 1959.
In the years since, nearly every major U.S. city has adopted a similar policy.    
Philly has become home to roughly 400 public art projects since the program's inception, and one more -- the six-month residency of a Dutch artist duo known as PolakVanBekkum -- is currently underway.

Thanks to the construction of two new University City Science Center structures and a $168,000 grant, PolakVanBekkum will be working throughout the summer and into the fall to create an audio-enhanced Google Earth documentary and an interactive online map, both of which will attempt to explore the spatial and sensory experience of traveling through the city.
The project, which may also have a physical component, will be built with data collected from volunteers outfitted with GPS transponders and digital audio devices. Those volunteers -- who are currently being identified by the artists -- will wander for weeks in the urban environment, their every movement and sound simultaneously geo-located in space.

Come November, when the final interactive and online results are unveiled, the artists hope to share an entirely new story -- a mix of anthropology, place-making and technology -- about the various ways in which Philadelphians interact with their surroundings.
"I think the artists laid out a very good plan for what they want to do," says David Clayton of the Science Center's STEAM Initiative, which is spearheading the residency. "And we want to have them use the project as a process to engage communities. We liked that this type of thing has never really been done before."
To stay up-to-date on the project's evolution, visit 250miles.net.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: David Clayton, University City Science Center
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