Local governments get hip to public art
A decade ago, only 12 public art programs existed in Florida. Today, there are 30-plus statute-based programs in the state, and more than 350 have been instituted by local governments nationwide. “There’s a resurgence in awareness of the value of showcasing the uniqueness of a community to attract new citizens, businesses and tourists,” says Lee Modica, Florida’s Art in State Buildings program administrator.
Public art programs require developers — either public, private or both — to spend a percentage of their construction cost on art. “Almost all public art is site-specific design,” Modica says, “which means reflecting functionality, the environment and history [of a place].”
Fort Myers, Fla., for example, passed a public art ordinance in October 2004. The ordinance “encourages” public and private developers to contribute 1.5 percent of construction or reconstruction costs — excluding site work — to the acquisition and installation of fine art in public areas of developments not to exceed $150,000. The ordinance includes a clause that allows developers to contribute 1 percent of building costs to a public art fund, through which a committee purchases public art projects.
What the ordinance lacks in teeth is made up by Mayor Jim Humphrey’s commitment. “When we first started, we wanted to put more teeth into it and make it mandatory,” he says. The city was advised by its attorney that courts were reluctant to require developers to pay fees similar to impact fees. But because the mayor also serves as chief executive officer, he says, “I personally do the encouraging. I look at it as being a good economic booster for our downtown area.”
Since the art ordinance was enacted seven months ago, all the developers that have received new project permits have agreed to comply. “My real focus and goal is to see a good plan or program established so it’s not just art placed without some design,” Humphrey says. The mayor and council also have appointed an arts committee to identify locations for future public art projects, such as fountains and sculptures.
Grand Junction, Colo., began mapping its arts future in 1984 with its Main Street rotating arts program, which features outdoor sculpture that is replaced periodically. Eight years ago, the 42,000-resident city passed a resolution requiring 1 percent of the capital improvement costs of public buildings and parks to be spent on purchasing and installing public art. To date, Grand Junction has spent $200,000 on public art works. The City Council approves each piece of art, which is screened by an arts commission. Artists throughout the state are invited to submit proposals for the projects, which average about $30,000 per piece, says Allison Sarmo, cultural arts coordinator for the Grand Junction Commission on Arts and Culture.
Beautifying the city with public art has helped revitalize downtown and has lured tourists, businesses and new residents, Sarmo says. “The better a place looks, the more people are going to want to live there,” Sarmo says. “And I’m all for using public art to increase the hip factor.”