Art may make state buildings easy on the eyes, but it’s hard on the pocketbook, say some Spokane-area Republican lawmakers.
They are moving to eliminate or cut back on a 20-yearold program that sets aside money for art in state buildings.
Funding for art currently built into all major state construction projects would be eliminated under identical bills sponsored by Sen. Bob McCaslin and Rep. Larry Crouse.
“I just didn’t think the people of Washington wanted to be buying artwork for prisons and schools and public buildings,” Crouse said.
Created by the state Legislature in 1974, the Art In Public Places program sets aside one half of 1 percent of each major construction project’s budget to pay for original works of art.
That amounts to just over $2 million for the 1993-95 biennium, according to Mary Yadon, financial manager for the Washington Arts Commission.
Crouse said he got the idea to yank the art funding while touring the Airway Heights prison near Spokane last month. He noticed several pieces of expensive-looking art.
The artwork at the prison cost the state $218,000, according to Yadon. The prison yard is dotted with bronze statues of geese, a coyote, quail and other animals. There are several paintings inside the prison, and a mural made of aluminum pieces, according to Rich Hewson, a prison spokesman.
“They’re kind of nice. They’re something I wouldn’t mind having in my front yard,” Hewson said of the bronze animals.
Crouse introduced a second bill last week to abolish the state Arts Commission, which administers the public art program. If the budget for art in state buildings is eliminated, Crouse said there will be no need for the commission. His bill would transfer the assets of the commission to the Washington Historical Society.
But the public arts program represents only a “small part” of the commission’s work, said executive director Karen Kamera Gose. The commission also brings artists to schools and awards grants to nonprofit art organizations, she said.
Rep. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she generally supports the public art program.
“In general I think it’s a good idea,” Brown said. “It may well be in a tight budget year that we need to do some trimming.”
But Crouse’s bills go beyond trimming, she said.
“It seems like the meat ax approach, not the surgical one,” Brown said.
A more modest measure has been proposed by Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Colville. Her bill would eliminate public art funding only for prisons, juvenile rehabilitation facilities and schools. That would save the state more than $960,000 during the 1995-97 biennium, according to Yaden.
Public art is an investment worth making, said Rosemary Selinger, vice-chairwoman of the state Arts Commission and a Spokane resident. A longtime patron of the local arts, Selinger is a former president of the Spokane Symphony and now sits on the board of the Cheney Cowles Museum.
“It’s tremendous for our community here,” Selinger said. “I think it’s vital to the quality of life in Washington state.”
Crouse said he hopes people don’t regard him as a philistine.
“I have nothing against art … It’s not like I hate everything artists do,” he said.
Crouse predicted his bills would save money without making communities less attractive.
“I don’t think the general public would even notice,” Crouse said.
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