Public Art

Last week, I learned that a City Ordinance requires 1% be added to any construction (capital) spending for “public art”. The next day, I requested a new ordinance to repeal this existing ordinance. My fellow Council member Bob Coffin noted that I might have stirred a sleeping giant with my request, and predicted the Council would hear from many citizens supporting the City’s continued investment in the works of favored local artists (although the artist featured in this photo lives in Denver).

Dear Sleeping Giant:

Personally and philosophically, I believe art is far too much in the eye of the beholder to allow some people to spend other people’s money on it. Cities should promote arts by offering classes to teach citizens to paint, sing, dance, write, sculpt, quilt, sew, design, pluck, drum and strum, but not by building a collection of favored artists’ art.

But it was not from this personal philosophy that I requested the repeal of this 2003 self-mandate, and it is my hope that the coming Council discussion on our mandate does not get bogged down in any of our philosophies.

My proposal is simply fiscal: While the “C-tax” is up, property tax is down and total revenue is flat. One of our unions just voted down a tiny raise, wanting more. The Sheriff says if the Legislature doesn’t raise the sales tax again (it last bumped the rate, by a quarter cent, four years ago as We had very narrowly (52%) voted back in 2004, but it kept the money in the state treasury instead of spending it on more cops) then the City of Las Vegas will have to lay off about a hundred people midyear.

With that in mind, I do not think it is wise or prudent public policy to put a decision to fund public art on auto-pilot. It needs to be deliberated and discussed in the coming budget cycles, soberly, prioritized along with all of the City’s responsibilities.

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