Simply put public art is art in public spaces. The term “public art” may conjure images of historic bronze statues of a soldier on horseback in a park. Today, public art can take a wide range of forms, sizes, and scales—and can be temporary or permanent. It often interprets the history of the place, its people, and perhaps addresses a social or environmental issue. Public art can include murals, sculptures, memorials, integrated architectural or landscape work, community art, digital new media, and even performances and festivals!
Why is public art funded?
Admit it. You want to know how public art is funded in Salina. Have you ever thought, “Why don’t they just put that money toward filling potholes or improving sidewalks?” Or maybe you’ve thought, “They call that art? Why did they put my tax money towards that?”
In order to understand how cities, like Salina, fund public art, you first have to understand the program’s origins.
Some historians credit President Franklin D. Roosevelt with laying the groundwork for a federal public art program in the early 1930s as part of the Works Project Administration. In order to lift people’s spirits and help boost the economy, Roosevelt commissioned artists during the Great Depression. New art was commissioned for federally-owned buildings such as post offices and courthouses. But then it was President John F. Kennedy—who took a trip to Europe in the 1960s and decided that America’s cultural preservation and legacy needed to be preserved—used Roosevelt’s program as groundwork and established the Federal Art in Public Places Program. Kennedy mandated that ½ to 1% of all new and renovated construction costs of federal buildings be allocated toward purchasing art for federal public spaces.
And thus began the start of Public Art Programs in America.
In Salina, there’s a similar program but it’s local. It’s not a tax. Rather, it’s a budgeting tool initiated by residents and implemented by the City. It’s a budget directive, not an additional tax, so it doesn’t require a vote by citizens. There is no requirement for additional funds for projects, but it does reserve 5% of the project budget from all new capital projects over $10,000 to be allocated to works of art.
That means public art funds are not reserved for projects that repair or replace existing infrastructure, for example, road repairs, re-roofing a building, or water main repairs. They don’t come directly from taxes.
How are repairs and maintenance to public art funded?
A portion of the 5% funds are then reserved for maintenance of the collection, thus no additional tax dollars are used to maintain art once it’s placed in the collection.
Many municipalities utilize this funding model for public art since it’s self-regulating. In times of growth, the collection grows, and in times of recession, the funding and expansion slow or sometimes stop as big-ticket construction projects either slow or stop.
Works of art and artists are selected through an extensive process. The Community Art and Design Committee (CAD) reviews and makes recommendations to the Salina Arts & Humanities Commission. From there, the matter goes to the City Manager and City Commission.
What is the “art” of public art?
As our society and its modes of expression evolve, so will our definitions of public art. Materials and methods change to reflect our contemporary culture. The process, guided by professional expertise and public involvement, should seek out the most imaginative and productive affinity between the artist and the community. Likewise, artists must bring their artistic integrity, creativity, and skill to the work. What is needed is a commitment to invention, boldness, and cooperation – not compromise.
Who is public art for?
In a diverse society, all art cannot appeal to all people, nor should it be expected to do so. Art attracts attention; that is what it is supposed to do. Is it any wonder, then, that public art causes controversy? Varied popular opinion is inevitable, and it is a healthy sign that the public environment is acknowledged rather than ignored. To some degree, every public art project is an interactive process involving artists, architects, design professionals, community residents, civic leaders, politicians, approval agencies, funding agencies, and construction teams. The challenge of this communal process is to enhance rather than limit the artist’s involvement.