One of freshman Rep. Larry Crouse’s first forays into lawmaking has been a crusade against a program that puts art in public buildings. It’s a waste of tax dollars, he says.
Crouse has proposed a bill to get rid of the Art In Public Places program, which sets aside one half of one percent of each state construction project’s budget to pay for artwork. Another bill he’s sponsoring would ax the Washington State Arts Commission, which administers the program.
Crouse says he’s not anti-art. He says he just doesn’t believe taxpayers should foot the bill.
Two accomplished Valley artists paint a different picture of art’s value to society.
“Art is part of our souls,” says Veradale resident Christine Kimball, a painter who recently returned from a privately funded, 3-1/2-month fellowship in France.
Kimball notes that governments have supported artists in their communities going back for centuries.
“I don’t know why they’re worried about such a small amount of money for something important like this, and yet they throw away so much money,” Kimball says.
Another painter, Millwood resident Mel McCuddin, agrees that Crouse doesn’t appreciate the value of art.
“I sure can’t wish him any well,” McCuddin says. “He doesn’t seem to realize how big a part of life art is, he thinks of it as kind of a frill.”
McCuddin has had his paintings placed in schools around the state as a result of the Art In Public Places program. He says state-financed art is especially valuable in smaller communities that might not otherwise be exposed to much art.
But Crouse is especially wary of the state paying for art in prison facilities. He says he got the idea for his bills after touring the Airway Heights prison near Spokane. The prison interior sports several paintings and the yard is dotted with bronze statues of animals - at a total cost to the state of $218,000.
Crouse says he might support a less sweeping measure proposed by Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Colville. Her bill would eliminate the requirement for art only in prisons and schools.
“I’m not a radical on this stuff. We just need to do what’s realistic,” Crouse says.
McCuddin admits “mixed feelings” about taxfinanced art in prisons. But he says art could provide a “touch of sanity” for prisoners in an otherwise dreary existence.
Kimball agrees. “It seems to me that if prison is about rehabilitation, why not have something positive in there?”
With art being attacked as immoral or wasteful on the national as well as the state level, Kimball says perhaps artists should remind people that what they do is important.
“Sometime there ought to be an artist strike and everything having to do with art should be covered up,” she says.