The state shouldn’t spend taxpayer money on art in new prisons and schools, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly agreed Tuesday.
That money should be reserved for basic construction, said Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Colville, who sponsored the art bill.
Her measure, House Bill 1135, also requires that art for other types of state buildings be created only by Washington state artists.
The vote was 60-38. The measure now goes to the state Senate, where it could face strong opposition.
McMorris said her bill is not against art, it just sets some priorities. She pointed to the $218,000 the state spent on art for the Airway Heights prison near Spokane. Her bill would save taxpayers about $960,000 over the next two years.
Although many lawmakers agreed that placing expensive art in prisons squanders state resources, taking the money from schools sparked a heated debate that blurred party lines.
The bill had been amended in committee to exempt schools, but they were put back in after a 50-48 vote on an amendment by Rep. John Pennington, R-Battle Ground.
Pennington said children could create art for the schools.
“Let the kids do the art. Keep the professional artists out of the schools,” he said. “The greatest artists we have are walking those halls.”
Supporters of paying for professional art said it could inspire students by sending the message that art is worthy of public support.
“I think a well-rounded education includes art,” said Rep. Grace Cole, D-Seattle.
All great civilizations have set aside public money for art, said Rep. Brian Ebersole, D-Tacoma. Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo were supported by public money, he said.