Data: Philly Street Art

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Introduction

One of the most endearing qualities of Philadelphia is its rich culture and history. Most notably, a diverse collection of works of art is scattered around the city for all of the public to enjoy.

After discovering many of these sculptures around campus and in Center City, I became curious about what patterns existed among works of art in Philly, so I decided to work on this data project to explore the public art scene.

This summary will help you gain an understanding of where you can find public art in Philly, as well as the subject themes and creation history.

Key Questions

I set out to answer the following questions about public art in Philly:

  1. Where are the Philly spots where you can see the most public art?

  2. What are the most popular themes/subject matters?

  3. What mediums/materials are most popular?

  4. When were most of the works created by their artists?

Process Overview

Getting the Data: First, I used WebScraper.io to scrape 200+ listings of works of public art (e.g. sculptures, murals, architecture) in Philadelphia from the Association for Public Art website. From each listing, I scraped the work’s title name, artist name, year created, location in Philly, and theme/subject tags, then exported the data in a .csv file.

Prepping the Data: I used OpenRefine and Excel to clean the data (i.e. remove trailing white spaces, isolate years when several are listed, clean addresses for geocoding). Then I used Geocodio to convert addresses to custom latitude/longitude values for mapping in Tableau. Geocoding was particularly difficult because the installations usually lack exact addresses, so many locations were defined relative to nearby buildings and street intersections.

Analysis & Visualizations: I used Tableau to generate the data visualizations (maps and charts) shown below.



Findings

1) Where are the Philly spots where you can see the most public art?

After mapping the locations of 211 public art works, we can see that the most public art installations are found along the diagonal that is Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which runs from City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This holds a lot of symbolic meaning: placing art between City Hall and the museum is equivalent to putting it in the center of the cultural heart of the Philly to celebrate our history. This is also the most high-trafficked area of the city.

Map of Philly’s public art works recognized by the Association for Public Art. I have highlighted several you may recognize!

Map of Philly’s public art works recognized by the Association for Public Art. I have highlighted several you may recognize!

2) What are the most popular themes?

Graphing all 135 works that were tagged with themes by the Association of Public Art shows that the most popular theme is Women and Public Art, defined by the data source as “public artworks that were created by women artists or inspired by women.” This was surprising, given that women are generally underrepresented in history.

The other themes are mostly political and historical. Another interesting note: the city has a particular fondness for Benjamin Franklin, who has his own category of art (we have at least 13 works of him!)

The most popular theme is  Women and Public Art,  defined by the data source as “ public artworks that were created by women artists or inspired by women.”

The most popular theme is Women and Public Art, defined by the data source as “public artworks that were created by women artists or inspired by women.”

3) What are the most popular mediums?

The packed bubble chart below shows that an overwhelming majority of public art in Philadelphia is sculptures, with the most popular medium being bronze on granite base, followed by other variations of bronze, granite, limestone, and marble.

 
The most popular medium is  bronze on granite base.

The most popular medium is bronze on granite base.

 

4) When were most of the works created by their artists?

After excluding 1 outlier and plotting works by year created shows that the works were created between the years 1774-2017, and the most frequent period of creation was 1950-2000. More public art has been created over time, and generally more frequently.

Most of the works were created in the 20th century, with the highest frequency during the late 20th century (1950-2000)

Most of the works were created in the 20th century, with the highest frequency during the late 20th century (1950-2000)

Conclusion & Limitations

Some limitations of my analysis:

  • Due to the nature of most public artworks not having their own addresses, the geocoding is bound to have some error (thus the map shows approximate locations of the art pieces).

  • I was unfortunately not able to include Philly’s many murals in my data. Due to the ephemeral (and sometimes illegal) nature of murals and graffiti, they are hard to get an up-to-date list of. Statues are more likely to be “officially recognized” and recorded in databases due to historical significance, donors, and inherent permanence of the medium itself. Although not covered here, I hope you will take time to explore the beautiful murals in the city (we’re not called the unofficial world capital of murals for nothing!)

I hope you enjoyed learning about Philly’s public art installations, and decide to go out and see some of them for yourself. This was a fun project and I learned a lot about web scraping, geocoding, and analyzing data in Tableau. Until next time!


Carmen Lau is a junior at The Wharton School passionate about art and tech. This project was done for the class OIDD 245: Analytics in the Digital Economy.

Carmen Lau