Friday, May 22, 2009

Calls for Public Art Trending Toward Local Restrictions

Compared to two years ago, a greater percentage of calls for public art RFQs or RFPs are being restricted to artists living within the state the call originates in. Sometimes they are limited to those within a region and sometimes within a city itself. As a general rule, those limited to a city are normally those with smaller budgets or which deal specifically with the history of the city.

A certain amount of this territorial restriction is -- territorial. It comes from artists and their supporters pressuring the issuing agencies to "keep the money at home."

Steve Fairfield has been keeping us up to date on the goings-on in Washington state, where Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, first sponsored a bill to eliminate mandatory funding of public art. According to Hobbs: "I respectfully disagree with members of the arts community who feel the Art in Public Places program should be sacrosanct. What message are we sending to struggling middle-class families across our state when we force our agencies to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on art while our children’s favorite teachers are being handed pink slips?" He continued: "I am not an opponent of the arts, merely a proponent of common sense public policy that reflects the values of most of the people in this state."

He apparently assumes his constituents -- and artists -- don't understand a budget, whether personal, business or legislative always represents priorities; the higher the dollar amount, the higher the priority. Zero dollars = zero priority = not interested.

When that bill failed, Hobbs pushed a bill to limit the funds to artists living within the state. It got enough support from artists and their state representatives that It passed. On May 15, Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed the bill.

"I'm disappointed," Hobbs said. "I was just trying to help more artists in the state of Washington."

At least he wasn't using art as a political football. He would never do that. Nor would any other politician.

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