Council committee approves 1.5 percent for public art ordinance

A proposal dedicating 1.5 percent of city-issued bonds to public art on an annual basis has cleared a City Council committee.

Mary Altman, the city’s public arts administrator, said the goal is to provide a consistent and stable funding source for public art projects in the city that makes it easier to plan projects. The money would be tapped from the city’s net debt bonds, which are property tax-supported bonds that finance infrastructure improvements.

For the 2015 city budget, 1.5 percent of the city’s net debt bonds would amount to about $465,000, Altman said. 

The full Council will vote on the measure co-authored by Council Members Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8) and Kevin Reich (Ward 1) on Sept. 25. If approved, it would go into effect for the 2017 city budget. 

The city’s budget for public art has fluctuated significantly in recent years. Since 1992, a portion of the net debt bonds have gone toward art projects but it hasn’t been a consistent amount. This year’s budget, for instance, doesn’t dedicate any of the bonds toward art.

Several other local governments have adopted percent-for-art ordinances, including St. Paul, Duluth and Hennepin County, which funds public art projects in libraries.

Reich said the measure helps demonstrate the city’s commitment to the arts at Thursday’s Zoning & Planning Committee meeting.

“We need to have a guarantee that the public has access to art that is not only out there but is maintained over time and is part of the fabric of the city in the way that other supported infrastructure is,” he said.

Glidden said the ordinance gives more “definition” to what has already been a long-time city practice of investing in public art.

“We’re trying to use tried and tested mechanisms that have worked in other places to make sure we’re establishing our goals of consistency around our commitment to public art and its ongoing maintenance,” she said.

South Minneapolis artist Wing Young Huie, owner of the Third Place Gallery, 3730 Chicago Ave. S., spoke in strong support of the 1.5 percent for public art ordinance at the committee’s public hearing.

Known for his powerful documentary photo installations, he photographed people along Chicago from 32nd to 42nd Street to showcase the corridor’s diversity and vibrancy as part of the Arts on Chicago initiative. A permanent installation of 30 of the photos is hung on the ceiling of Cup Foods at 38th & Chicago.

“I believe the most interesting art today is happening in storefronts, in living rooms, in neighborhoods — in third places. The value of art is being redefined — shaped not by pure aesthetics but by societal relationships and cultural impacts,” he said. “Hopefully it will be the people on the street and in the corner grocery stores who will decide the values and meanings of art. The future of neighborhoods is intertwined with the future of art. Art as it is being redefined is not a luxury — it is essential to society’s wellbeing.”

Leslie Palmer-Ross, director of healthcare and art services for Northeast-based Art Force, also expressed enthusiasm for the proposed ordinance.

“I want Minneapolis to be an exceptional place, and that requires us to foster and value the creative spirit. The creative spirit has a significant economic impact,” she said. “Citizens expect their government to provide and maintain parks, sidewalks, streets, etc. I believe we should have the same expectation in relation to public art.”

Brenda Kayzar, president of the board of directors for the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association and an urban geography professor at the University of Minnesota, noted the excitement generated by the new Bob Dylan mural at 5th & Hennepin. Designed by an artist team led by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra, the $50,000 project was commissioned by Goldman Sachs, the owner of the 15 Building.

The buzz generated by this arts project goes far beyond paint, but this is a privately funded project on private property. It is not the city’s to tout and it’s not in perpetuity,” Kayzar said. “It is for public purview, but it is not public art. It highlights the need for the city to be engaged in generating its own written legacy through artistic endeavor.”

Becky Franklin, chair of the Minneapolis Arts Commission, which advises the City Council on arts issues, said public art contributes to economic development, attracts residents, visitors and artists and improves the livability of the city.

“Well maintained public art is in an indication that the city cares about its assets and its people,” she said.