Should Triangle towns buy public art during a recession?

April 19, 2010 

Arts provide many benefits


Although some people contend that spending public funds on the arts is frivolous and unnecessary, especially during challenging economic times, statistics prove that the arts promote economic development and build community pride.

The tangible benefits of a vibrant cultural environment are many. When considering relocation, businesses look for cities with diverse offerings including the arts. The arts also create jobs.

Public art, in particular, doesn't only employ citizen artists. The success of large-scale public artworks depends on many people: artists, artisans, architects, craftsmen, fabricators, engineers, contractors, welders and electricians, among others. Public artworks are created with diverse materials purchased from local manufacturers and suppliers.

There's a common misconception about the relative cost of public art. It is only a small percentage - usually 1 percent or less - of the cost of a capital improvement project.

This percentage is not added on; it is part of. That means that if a community and its citizens decide to build a multimillion-dollar public building or place, the inclusion of public art won't change the cost.

The intangible benefits of art and culture are even greater. When times are tough, people need the support of their communities even more. Public art is one small way that communities can give back to their citizens.

Public art enriches the beauty of our environment, builds community spirit and fosters pride. It also provides a canvas for adults and children alike to tell their community's story to the world.

Jennifer Murphy is a public art and urban planning consultant from Charlotte.

This is no time for luxuries


Public art is controversial enough when times are good - and now, as you've probably noticed, the times are anything but good.

Amid the fallout of a historic recession isn't the time for Raleigh,Cary and other municipalities to spend tax dollars on what, in the end, is a luxury.

I love art. I buy art. I think art can have public value - in the right places, bought at the right times and prices.

In the case of Cary, which has sensibly deferred dozens of projects to cut costs during the downturn, it seems an inopportune time for the Town Council to consider a new policy automatically devoting a fixed percentage of construction budgets to the inclusion of public art.

The organization Cary Visual Art and individual philanthropists remain free to buy art for the town when citizens can't afford it.

In Raleigh's case, the latest public art proposal is a matter of bad timing and location: the proposed Lightner Public Safety Center.

The national economic recession has hit Raleigh taxpayers, too, of course. This isn't the time to go on a $705,000 art-buying spree.

Beyond that, I question the public value of buying art for an administrative building. In better times, it might be different at City Hall, where many more residents routinely gather.

At Lightner, I think it's a mistake to invite unnecessary public traffic into the city's most sensitive nerve center - but that's another Faceoff.

Mayor Charles Meeker suggests trimming the Lightner Center's public art component roughly in half, to several hundred thousand dollars. But city law requires any such savings to be set aside to buy or maintain other art.

In the end, there's a delicate art to public art.

Matthew Eisley edits The N&O's North Raleigh News and Midtown Raleigh News.

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