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May 30, 2023

City will remove decades-old, board-game art installation from Thomas Paine Plaza

The public sculpture, 'Your Move,' was commissioned in 1996. Weather and skateboarding have deteriorated its pieces, officials say

Arts & Culture Sculpture
Thomas Paine Plaza Sculptures Provided Image/City of Philadelphia

'Your Move,' the landmark art installation features sculptures of oversized board game pieces at Thomas Paine Plaza. All the sculptures are being removed as part of Philadelphia's plans to renovate the space outside the Municipal Services Building.

It's difficult to picture the landscape of Thomas Paine Plaza without its collection of gigantic chess pieces, dominoes and other larger-than-life sculptures that replicate the ones from popular board games.

But after nearly three decades, Philadelphia officials say the public art installation, "Your Move," will be wiped clean from the plaza outside the Municipal Services Building, at 1401 John F. Kennedy Blvd. The decision is due to upcoming renovations of the plaza and the poor conditions of the remaining 34 sculpture pieces. There had originally been 45.

"Since the installation of 'Your Move,' a professional conditions assessment found that the materials used in the artwork were not durable enough to withstand the wear and tear of its high-traffic site, including skateboarding, frequent interactions with the public, and exposure to rain and sunlight," the city said ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

The removal of the pieces — representing chess, Sorry!, Parcheesi, Monopoly, bingo, dominoes and checkers — began on Friday. The sculptures will be temporarily stored and later disposed of by the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy and the Department of Public Property.

The city is planning a redesign of Thomas Paine Plaza to make it more like City Hall's Dilworth Plaza and the renovated LOVE Park, another former skateboarding hotspot that was overhauled in 2016. Plans for Paine Plaza include adding green space and seating to make the space more welcoming and suited for gatherings.

The "Your Move" installation had been commissioned in 1996 for $195,000 as part of Philly's Percent for Art program, which requires that major city-funded renovation or construction projects designate 1% of the overall budget to site-specific public art.

Artists Daniel Martinez, Renee Petropoulis and Roger White were informed by the city last summer that the plan would be to permanently remove "Your Move" from the plaza due to the difficulty with its conservation.

The city said it required "extensive, exhaustive and expensive" restoration to deal with issues like rust, graffiti and other forms of damage. Rust and corrosion, specifically, pose hazards to anyone who climbs on the various game pieces. The sculptures are made primarily of painted fiberglass, steel and concrete.

The artists were given the opportunity to take back the sculptures, at their own expense, but chose not to, officials said. At the request of the artists, the city will not be selling the pieces. Instead, the sculptures will be temporarily stored and then taken to a metal recycling site.  

"We express our gratitude for the great impact that 'Your Move' has had on our community, we understand and share the feelings of loss and sadness experienced by those who have connected deeply with this cherished public art installation," the officials said. "Its removal will certainly create a void for many who appreciate its beauty and significance to Philadelphia and Center City."

The renovations at Paine Plaza will again trigger the Percent for Art requirement, resulting in a new public art installation that the city says will be durable and designed to fit the new layout.

After "Your Move" is gone, the plaza's foundation will be repaired and then a contract will be awarded for its redesign.

The removal of the sculptures at Thomas Paine Plaza follows the decision to take away the statue of former mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo in 2020. For many people, Rizzo's statue outside the Municipal Services Building had become a symbol of police brutality and bigotry.

That statue was removed in the aftermath of protests surrounding the police killing of George Floyd, and the statue had been defaced during that time. The city originally had planned to take it down and relocate it in 2017, but was unable to find a new location for it. The bronze statue remains in storage.

The city has not yet set a timeline for the redesign and renovation of Thomas Paine Plaza.