Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sun Sentinel -- Public art on your dime. Should you still be paying for it? -- posted by Florida Fine Art Blog

                                Public Art Sculpture located at the Fort Lauderdale Airport

Public art on your dime  Should you still be paying for it?
Sun Sentinel
by Brittany Wallman
12:45 p.m. EDT, July 11, 2011
Behind a secure door, up an elevator, down a hallway, behind a partition and inside some crates is a piece of public art.
The colorful glass sculpture inside, called "Linaje,'' cost taxpayers $25,000 and was planned for "high visibility.'' So far, it's only getting exposure as a symbol of troubles in Broward County's Art in Public Places program.
Exasperated Broward officials, most of them supporters of public art, nevertheless said it's time to tighten up a program that has allowed the glass sculpture to lie unseen long after it was paid for and created, and that shifts tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to art when painful cuts have been made elsewhere.
Commissioners also want a say in what art gets built, where.
"I look at my own life,'' Broward's John Rodstrom said. "I have collected art in the past and I haven't bought a piece in a while. I don't have the disposable income. I think a lot of America feels that way right now.''
Some taxpayers don't want government taking their money and buying art with it, especially art they think is ugly.
Read the rest of the article here

Public Art Sculpture outside the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center
A big debate has risen in South Florida over public art funding.  In times of financial strain art funding is seen by many as a luxury that must be cut.   By others it is a convenient excuse for cutting the Government out of something they don’t think it should be involved in.  And still others are upset by what they perceive as money wasted on unappealing art.   

The article I have posted talks about some possible remedies, none of which seem like good ideas.  One idea is to put every art project expected to cost over $100,000 to a full public vote.  That reminds me of the Eiffel Tower story I once heard.  5 years after the 1889 Worlds Fair had ended in Paris a poll was taken to see what support there was for keeping the Eiffel Tower up.  90% of Parisians voted to take it down.  Now it's over a hundred years later and you would be hard pressed to find anyone in Paris willing to loose their most iconic structure.  It would be hard to imagine an art project anywhere that everyone agreed about, especially when it is first proposed.  

Another problem is that most do not realize that no additional funds are raised, no additional taxes are levied to pay for the art.  The budget for public art comes as a percentage of the total cost to build the public building.  The percentage is usually 1% to 2% up to a certain amount.  The selection process is very thorough and is set up to make sure that local artists and art suppliers benefit from the new construction just as local construction firms, plumbers, painters and electricians do.   Our artists serve an important role in our community; they should be included in projects that use public monies just like any other industry.  And when a vital arts community flourishes so does the rest of the community.    

South Florida is a tourist destination, it is our main industry.   Cultural tourism is a growing and important part of that industry.  Again I go back to the Eiffel Tower as an example; more than 200,000,000 people have visited the tower since its construction including 6,719,200 in 2006 alone.  Not bad for a public art project.  Or closer to home you can look at the new Dali Museum in St. Pete.  Many were against the project and fought hard to stop its public funding.   Now just 6 months after its opening in January the museum received its 200,000 visitor and has been named by USA Today as one of the “top 20 places you have to go before you die.”  That translates to hotel room reservations, restaurants, gift shops, cabs, and all the other purchases that tourists make.  And the dollars that the new “Cultural Tourists” spend are staggering.  A recent study shows that two cultural tourists spend more on average than a family of 5 does on vacation.   For the state of Florida, for every dollar spent on art, it gets back 4 dollars in economic growth.

Most importantly art shows us who we are and where we have been.  The absence of art will only show future generations our failings. 

“This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair.  Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart, and is that precious fruit which resists the erosion of time, which unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration.”  Pope John Paul VI 1965.

There have always been tough times and there has always been public art.  If every other generation of Americans could find the funds necessary to support the arts shouldn't we?  GL

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