published Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Chattanooga: Council approves public art coordinator after debate

by Cliff Hightower
Audio clip

Audio: Chattanooga City Council Meeting -- Jan. 06, 2009

The Chattanooga City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to hire a new public arts coordinator after a lengthy debate broke out about whether the city could afford spending on art during a recession.

The vote approves a contract between the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and the new public arts coordinator, Peggy Townsend, for $41,600 a year. The city will pay one-third of the contract, or $13,800, and the rest is paid for by private donations, city officials said.

Councilmen Leamon Pierce and Manny Rico both voted against the measure. Councilman Jack Benson abstained.

“At this time, I can’t support anything that’s not essential,” Mr. Rico said.

Parks and Recreation Administrator Larry Zehnder countered council members’ claims that spending money on public art was extravagant, saying projects such as the arts helped bring in Volkswagen, which is building a $1 billion auto plant in Chattanooga.

The city spends $100,000 annually on public art, officials said. But last year, foundations such as the Benwood Foundation and the Lyndhurst Foundation spent $1.7 million on public art, Mr. Zehnder said.

“Doing away with the coordinator of the program does away with the program, as far as I’m concerned,” Mr. Zehnder said.

Dan Johnson, Mayor Ron Littlefield’s chief of staff, told council members that public art helped bring money into the city by promoting a better quality of life. He told council members to expect city expenditures to be slashed in the near future, but the public arts program would not be one of them.

“We will be coming to you with some cuts,” Mr. Johnson said. “There’s no question about that.”

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