In case you missed it, Sunday's Toledo Blade had a lead article about the 30th year of the One Percent for Art program.
In 1977, Toledo began earmarking public dollars for city art, setting aside one cent for each dollar the city spends on construction. Since then, about $3.5 million in local tax dollars and $1.2 million in private and other funding have been spent on 47 sculptures and murals.
I'll take exception to the article itself, as it seemed more of a glowing editorial using such phrases as:
* "It seems almost ridiculous to imagine that a city could be graced with art, one penny at a time."
* "have enhanced the urban landscape"
* "an exemplary lesson in economies of scale"
* "Like apple pie and motherhood, it's nigh on to impossible to find a detractor of the program that has spread beauty" (oh really? perhaps you haven't looked hard enough.)
* "Art in high-profile, urban locations softens hard edges and refreshes the soul. It can create a gathering place, a conversation piece."
But along about the sixth paragraph, was this:
"On March 4, Toledoans will be asked to renew the 0.75 percent temporary income tax, which, if passed, will increase the budget for public art for the first time in four years."
Part of the problem, as the article details, is that art is more expensive now, due to an increase in the costs of raw materials, and that art purchased must also be maintained, with such on-going care taking up about a third of the yearly budget.
Then there was this: "...the program's job description has expanded,..." But of course! Isn't that what happens with just about every government program? They expand to encompass more duties and responsibilities, and then need more money for the expanded duties and responsibilities, and then take on more duties, and then need even more money...and on and on it goes.
The program has changed in a positive way over the years, going from completely funding art projects to providing incentives for private investment.
"Instead of purchasing sculptures and murals, the program has been reshaped to fit its bigger responsibilities and smaller budgets. It "seeds" the acquisition process, spending money to select a pool of potential artists for a project and launching a fund-raising campaign to get the piece built."
And this is good - but it demonstrates something else - that private investment is available for such projects, so we don't NEED the public dollars for this purpose.
And even if you think continuation funding is NEEDED, considering the other obligations of the city and the priorities we should be focused upon, do you really think ADDITIONAL funding should be provided?
I don't. I think the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo could continue to solicit and coordinate the private funding of public art. And that ALL the funds currently dedicated to this project could be put, instead, to new police vehicles, roads, or - dare I say it - the reduction or elimination of the garbage tax, which will expire unless passed as a permanent source of funds in the 2008 budget.
Art is nice - when you can afford it. With so many citizens in Toledo struggling, it seems frivolous to take hard-earned and limited dollars from the citizens in order to purchase (or even leverage) art. Considering the comments many have made about the 3/4% tax, it's going to be hard enough getting it to pass as is, much less getting it to pass when more of those limited funds will go toward increasing the budget for art, which is certainly not a necessity.
Expect cries about the 'quality of life' and how this is actually 'economic development' in an attempt to convince people to vote for it.
But remember, like art, 'quality of life' is in the eye of the beholder. My quality of life would be better if I didn't have to constantly avoid potholes and poor roads, much more so than if there is a mural on the side of some building. Your quality of life might be enhanced more by new playground equipment in parks rather than if there was a statue there.
It's all about priorities - and increased funding for the One Percent for Arts program should not be a priority when it comes to using the 3/4% payroll tax revenues - no matter how 'progressive' such a program might be.