Fort Worth

December 25, 2013

Public art could see changes in Fort Worth

After almost being eliminated from the proposed 2014 bond package, public art funding faces continued scrutiny.

After facing reduction or elimination from the proposed 2014 bond package, public art funding faces continued scrutiny from the City Council about how the money is spent and the program is run.

In the proposed $292 million 2014 bond package, $5.84 million is set to go to public art. Several council members recommended eliminating or reducing that amount initially, in favor of spending the money on infrastructure and parks projects.

Mayor Betsy Price, an advocate for an ordinance that requires that 2 percent of all capital improvement funds go toward public art projects, said that though it is beneficial to the community, the planning process needs to be revised.

She has cited the mural at the Westside Water Treatment Plant, which is closed to the public, as an example of how the current process for public art has failed to serve residents.

“I’m not sure we are getting the proper input upfront,” Price said.

She wants to look at “best practices” from other cities and have a conversation with experts starting in January or February.

Martha Peters, vice president of the Arts Council of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, said the process for choosing artists and finalizing projects is laid out in the Public Art Master Plan, which the council approved.

Current procedures call for council approval of the annual public art budget and work plan. For most projects, the artist selection panel is made up of a member of the arts council and a project designer, with community representatives and council members also eligible to serve on the committee.

Still, Peters said the process has not been reviewed since 2003, when the master plan was adopted. Having an outside agency assess the practices would be best, she said, because “you are bringing in expertise that isn’t married to anything; they can be completely neutral.”

Review needed

Data collected from public hearings and the city’s MindMixer website showed that 73 percent of citizens are in favor of keeping public art funding at current levels, prompting the staff to keep it on the list for the proposed bond issue.

If voters approve the bond, Peters said, a list of potential art projects will come out in April.

The council is scheduled to vote on the contents of the bond package at its Jan. 7 meeting, and residents will vote on the bond package in May.

Councilman Jungus Jordan, who favored reducing public art funding, said he is not convinced the polling is an accurate reflection of community opinion.

“I think there was probably more input by those that had a special interest in issues that were in the bond package as opposed to a general review,” Jordan said. “So I think there is still some question in the community about the effectiveness of several of the issues, public art being one of them.”

Jordan said a review of the public art process is necessary before the May election.

“If we are going to spend that money and use taxpayers’ dollars to do it, we have to live up to the expectations of the nature and magnitude of what we are designing,” Jordan said.

Public expectations

He said the lights on Lancaster Avenue are an example of community disappointment with a project, but he cited the murals at the Will Rogers Memorial Complex as an example of artwork that lived up to expectations.

To ensure that the community is satisfied, Jordan said, the council should have more control of the projects, the public should have more input and the artists should be held to specific requirements and standards.

If funding for public art is reduced, Peters said, the number of projects the council can undertake would be reduced proportionally and there would be reductions in staff.

To Price, however, a reduction in funding is not what the community is calling for.

“When I am out talking to citizens, overwhelming they believe the public art program adds another dimension of the quality of life for the citizens of Fort Worth,” Price said.

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