Public Art Critics are wrong to seize on recession as a reason to deny funding
June 01, 2010
Connecticut's Art in Public Spaces program — a requirement that at least 1 percent of the cost of building or renovating a state structure be spent on artwork — has existed through good times and bad since 1978. The recession that now grips the state, bad as it is, is not reason enough to terminate a program that speaks not only to the people's humanity but to their indomitability.
During the time the state law requiring public art has been in effect, some 400 works have been commissioned and may be seen at public buildings throughout the state. Some works are superior to others, naturally, but Connecticut is a better state for having the requirement.
Now, with the State Bond Commission approving $75.9 million to build a public health laboratory in Rocky Hill, some lawmakers have come forward to question whether, at a time of steep projected budget deficits, the state can afford to commit 1 percent of the cost of construction (excluding design, engineering and equipment costs) to commission and install art.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero says it's a matter of identifying priorities: a "common sense" choice between vital services and art work. But it's a false choice, designed to make headlines.
Do the critics want to get rid of the public art spending requirement altogether? We can't imagine they do. If not, at what point should the art requirement be suspended? When, for example, economic growth is 2 percent or less? When a state budget deficit is forecast? When the General Assembly passes a resolution certifying that these are tough economic times?
Such pinchpenny formulations are impractical and lack vision. If the state can afford to build or renovate a structure, it can afford the art, which is an integral component.
Art has graced government buildings since the time of the pharaohs. It has always been a symbol of high civilization.
In a time far worse than this one — the Great Depression era of the 1930s — American public investment in the visual and performing arts was both a jobs stimulus and a hope stimulus. The beauty of publicly subsidized architecture from that time — the striking bridges over the Merritt Parkway, for example — as well as theater, murals, photography, paintings and poetry, inspired an economically shipwrecked nation and helped its struggling people dream of better times to come.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at