Look at public art dollars with a critic’s eye

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Sooner or later, the Fort Worth City Council must revisit the question of how much to spend on public art.

With a $292 million bond election going to voters next spring, council members must choose either to commit the designated $5.8 million over the next five years to city art projects, or change the 2001 ordinance that automatically reserves 2 percent of all capital spending for public art.

When the Fort Worth Public Art program was established in 2001, the city was aching over the sale of the privately owned Alexander Calder Eagle sculpture downtown. Council members were embarrassed that a city so known for arts and museums was investing so little to beautify public parks, streets and trails.

After more than 10 years and 70 projects, the question for the council is whether Fort Worth has made up any shortage and whether the council now should take more flexibility in changing or capping the amount devoted to future projects.

The debate was rekindled this week, when the city Art Commission recommended more than $600,000 in projects as part of a routine presentation of next year’s city art budget.

Councilman W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman of west Fort Worth asked the commission to postpone local artist Anitra Blayton’s proposed terraced seating area and other enhancements for Lake Como Park.

That’s exactly the kind of politically loaded decision the 2001 City Council tried to discourage by setting aside an automatic 2 percent of capital projects for art and leaving oversight authority to professionals on the appointed Art Commission.

But some current council members want to make that 2 percent less automatic. Councilman Jungus Jordan would remove it totally from the bond program.

Many cities devote 1 percent of public works spending to public art. Others devote 1.5 or 2 percent, but limit the amount per project or per year.

Fort Worth’s spending on public art is not extravagant. Over five years, the $5.8 million currently allotted in the 2014 bond program would amount to about $1.50 annually per resident. But that shouldn’t be set in stone.

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