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Bill Threatens State's 1% Set-Aside For Public Art

Lawmaker Says It's Not Affordable

Daniela Altimari

February 05, 2011

A longstanding law requiring the state to buy artwork equivalent to 1 percent of the construction cost of any building it erects or renovates could soon be scrapped.

State Sen. Paul Doyle said the requirement, on the books since 1978, is something the state can no longer afford in the face of a deficit projected to top $3.5 billion. He has submitted a bill to eliminate it.

"I appreciate the arts but we've got to make some tough decisions,'' said Doyle, a Democrat from Wethersfield. "This is an example of one of those decisions. It doesn't hurt people in terms of the safety net. it doesn't take food off the table of a poor person."

Arts advocates say Connecticut's law has provided benefits that are both measurable and intangible. Twenty-seven other states have similar public art funding programs.

"It is a mere 1 percent of a project and it creates art that is accessible to all and gives a sense of place,'' said Karen Senich, executive director for the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, which manages the public art program.

Senich said Connecticut's law was a model for other states,

Spending on the arts can help stimulate the economy and create jobs, Senich added. Artists are essentially small businesspeople they usually spend money on materials, they sometimes hire fabricators and other trades people and often employ movers to help transport large works of art, she said.

"Since its inception, the public art program has created jobs,'' Senich said, although she could not provide a number.

Those same arguments were heard 33 years ago, when lawmakers debated the measure. Some cited the economic benefits; others emphasized the importance of aesthetically pleasing buildings. On the other side, critics said it would provide a state subsidy for one profession; one lawmaker called it a "slush fund."

The law stipulates that 1 percent of the construction or renovation of a state-owned or leased building be spent on the purchase of public art, minus certain fees. Since January 2005, the state has spent at least $3.1 million on art in or around state buildings, according to the Office of Legislative Research.

Building projects at state prisons and the University of Connecticut were exempt from the requirement, but UConn has voluntarily spent $379,500 on art over the past five years and has allocated an additional $1.19 million for future purchases.

Among the projects funded under the law are three bronze sculptures with text and light on the grounds of the state Veterans Home in Rocky Hill, a metal mural depicting the four seasons at Bradley International Airport, and a kinetic sculpture hanging on the exterior of the science building at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic.

Doyle said he first learned of the requirement last year, during the controversy over a $75.9 million public health laboratory to be built in Rocky Hill. The state will borrow $493,000 for art 1 percent of the project's cost minus certain fees.

State Sen. Gayle Slossberg, a Milford Democrat and co-chair of the government administration and elections committee, said she expects the issue to come up for a public hearing during the current legislative session.

"I don't think anybody is looking to shortchange the cultural aspects of our state,'' Slossberg said. "We're going to have to make some really hard decisions.'' One possibility is suspending the program until the state gets its financial affairs in order, she added.

Colleen Flanagan, a spokeswoman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said the governor is focused on readying his budget by Feb. 16 and "hasn't yet had time to review the bill or its intent."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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