Monday, August 23, 2010

Art in Public Spaces

Let me preface this by saying that I am aware that a single newspaper article often will not tell the whole story, and that it might be written in a way to make a particular topic sound more exciting or dramatic than it really is. With that said, however, an article in yesterday's Rep-Am really put me on edge with the very first sentence: "A plan to build a small sculpture plaza in back of City Hall has prompted a debate over whether the city can afford public art — and if so, what kind."

This is a tough blog post for me to write without ranting incoherently. Maybe I should start with some background information the general public might not be aware of.

In Connecticut, the fundamental importance of having art in public spaces is protected and provided for by law and has been since 1978. To quote directly from the website of the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism: "the Art in Public Spaces program requires that not less than 1% of the cost of construction or renovation of publicly accessible state buildings be allocated for the commission or purchase of artwork for that building."

One percent is a very small percent. For the City Hall project, running at an approximate cost of $36 million, one percent is $360,000. The Waterbury Development Corporation proposes spending less than that, a mere $112,000, for the proposed sculpture court.

The City Hall is not a state building, so it does not have to meet the state requirement. To quote further from the CCCT website: "Twenty-seven states and over 300 municipalities legislatively allocate some portion of building costs for art acquisition. In Connecticut, public art programs also exist in New Haven, Stamford and New Britain." But not in Waterbury.

Waterbury wants to improve its image. Waterbury wants to become more like New Haven, or Stamford, or West Hartford. But instead of forward-thinking city officials who want to spend a fraction of a percentage of the funds allocated for a project that is coming in under budget to create a public sculpture court, we are presented with the Mayor's aide declaring that a sculpture court is not necessary.

Excuse me while I rant incoherently for a minute....

Waterbury does not have a good track record concerning public art. Yes, we do have some great art in public spaces, all of which definitely enhance the beauty and character of the city. But Waterbury has a long way to go to make up for the sheer stupidity of an earlier Mayor's administration, which refused to accept the donation of a sculpture from Alexander Calder, the most famous sculptor in the world, for the Buckingham Building. So far, based on yesterday's article, the current Mayor's administration doesn't seem to be any smarter--but maybe that's just how the article was written.

UPDATE: Kudos to Mayor Jarjura for approving the sculpture court project. The next step is the creation of a committee to select the sculpture.

No comments: