Executive Director of Association for Public Art retiring after serving more than four decades

Tamala Edwards Image
Thursday, December 15, 2022
Exec. Dir. of Assoc. for Public Art retiring after over four decades
This year is the 150th anniversary of the Association for Public Art and the longtime executive director has been there for nearly a third of that time, helping to transform the city's outdoor spaces into a museum without walls.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- For the last 42 years, Penny Balkin Bach has been helping artists bring their visions to life for all to enjoy across the city of Philadelphia.

While serving as the very first executive director for what is now called the Association for Public Art, she has had artworks, like Symbiosis, installed.

The Association for Public Art, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary, was originally called the Fairmount Park Art Association. Bach says it was renamed in 2012 to better express the overall goals of the organization. She says its mission is to "commission, acquire, preserve, interpret and promote public art in Philadelphia."

Bach has helped to shape the landscape of the city.

"I grew up in West Philadelphia, very close to Fairmount Park," she said.

And because of her proximity to the park, she says she considered it her "playground."

She has had permanent artworks installed by various artists. She says her "first big project" with the association was called Form and Function, and it "created an opportunity for artist to think in a slightly different way."

Fingerspan, by artist Jody Pinto, was an artwork that came out of that project.

Bach says her work is a collaborative effort, both with artists and the city. She says they try to understand a situation or need the city has for an artwork and then they work on matching the artist to that imperative.

"And we work very hard to create opportunities for public engagement," said Bach.

She brought Fireflies to Philadelphia in 2017.

"And this was a temporary project along the parkway with 27 pedicabs that people could ride," she explained.

Bach says many parks across the city have been named for their sculptures, like Maja Park.

"The artworks really put life into the spaces," she said.

She says conservation is also an important part of their work and Philadelphia has been a leader in that movement.

"There's three centuries of public art out there," said Bach.

She says iconic works in Rittenhouse Square Park, like Billy, need to be taken care of so they can be there for the next generation. Bach says she feels privileged to have seen the evolution of public art in the city over the last four decades.

"I feel so gifted, honored," she said.

For more information, visit: Association for Public Art