How Much Should Raleigh Spend on Public Art?
By Brent Woodcox
Before I begin this post, I just want to say that I am a supporter of public art and artists in general. I think that civic projects that incorporate art have the potential to make Raleigh unique and feature the work of local artists and creators. The creative class plays a vital role in our city in making it a place that is infused with culture and inspiration.
But are we spending too much on public art?
From a News & Observer article last week...
So it looks like the city is headed toward spending more than $900,000 on the art portion of the bridge construction that is currently taking place on Capital Boulevard. That's a lot of money but arguably worth it to make the bridge more aesthetically pleasing especially in a place that has effectively served as the welcome mat to downtown Raleigh for drivers entering the city from the north. At least one local conservative activist wasn't buying that argument though.
My question more one of priority. At a time when the city has just approved a road construction bond that has required raising taxes, when we know that building bus rapid transit corridors out as planned will require land acquisition and new construction costs being paid by the city and when Mayor McFarlane has recently expressed her desire to see the city take a larger role in building sidewalks and bike lanes to connect people to transit options, is this amount of spending on one public art project wise?
Why is there an arbitrary 1% requirement anyway? It seems like that type of mechanical target for funding art will necessitate funding art regardless of whether it can be incorporated well into the project.
Let's take a look at a couple of examples of recent public art projects funded by the city.
The first was funded in conjunction with the widening of Sandy Forks Road.
I don't mean to single out these pieces as being of low quality. But in a park, wouldn't it just be better to have more basketball goals and basketball courts. The uses of those courts would be practical if not as "whimsical."
If the city wants to fund public art (and it should), why not just have a separate line item in the budget for funding public art? You could put the Raleigh Art and Public Design Board in charge of finding the most civically minded and Raleigh specific projects that are worthy of funding. It wouldn't arbitrarily have to be forced into the design of an unrelated road widening project.
Meanwhile, the extra 1% of transportation funding could be used to incorporate bike lanes, bus shelters and sidewalks into road construction projects and help to make complete streets a reality for walkers, cyclists and drivers.
I think it is time to re-examine the 1% public art funding requirement to see if it is accomplishing the goal that Raleigh says it has "to establish a vibrant visual environment that provides public places with civic distinction."
Let's fund art in the art budget. Let's fund road construction in the transportation budget.
Let's let artists create art and transportation planners plan road construction.
And let's have a Raleigh that is more creative and vibrant and unique and walkable and pedestrian and cyclist friendly all at the same time.