published Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Demeaning the arts only hurts the city

Jerry Jones, owner of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, is like many Texans in his love of art. Sure, he loves his football team, but he tells visitors he also loves the incredibly artistic design of the $1.3 billion Cowboy Stadium, and the spectacular collection of large-scale art that he commissioned for the stadium. Visitors would understand. The stadium itself is an aesthetic work of art. The art collection there -- a mix of media by eight internationally known artists whose works range from oil-on-canvas to murals to large-scale installations -- brings beauty and awe to the walls and halls of the stadium.

Dallas' centerpiece artistic attraction, however, is the bronze herd of 70 -- count'em, 70 -- finely detailed, larger-than-life longhorns. They lope, like half-wild beasts, over the hill and down by the waterfalls and along the large pond that take up most of the four acres of Pioneer Plaza in downtown Dallas, across from City Hall and the Dallas Convention Center.

Throngs of tourists traipse among the bronzed 6-foot-high, raw-hide herd. Many pause to rub the awesome spread of longhorns, to trace hands over their muscular bodies, and to absorb the exquisite period detail of the tack, boots and clothes of the three bronze cowboys who ride high on equally large horses, straining to keep the herd together.

This wonderful 4.2 acre park cost $9 million to start in 1992, but that wouldn't begin to pay for the 70 bronze longhorn steers. Their cost has grown incrementally over the past 19 years as Dallas increased the herd. The steers now cost around a million dollars apiece.

That is, of course, substantially more than the $32,500 that the Chattanooga City Council forked over in October 2011 for the Blue Rhino, which stands now before the Chattanooga Theatre Centre. But given the continuing demeaning references to the city's purchase of that sculpture, it raises pertinent questions at a poignant moment, the kickoff today of "Spark -- a right brain celebration."

Why has the city's fractional investment in public art been so disparaged that several City Council members now seem fearful to say that they even like public art, or that it merits city government's support?

And if that fear is so tangible that it has dampened public investment in the arts, why are so many people so eager to engage in arts, and to seek the economic, aspirational and spiritual benefits they bring, as we will see over the next 11 days of Spark?

These are pertinent questions. The Blue Rhino purchase has become a symbolic wedge device that art scrooges and tea party types wrongly use as a public club to batter city support for the arts. And that is affecting the city's willingness to support not just the occasional purchase of public art, but also to continue general support for art agencies and the cost of special events.

Such tepid public support for art-related organizations and events may jeopardize private support for the arts, and diminish efforts that give soul to the city. This shouldn't happen. There is too much at stake across the spectrum of arts here, from the visual arts of painting and sculpture, to the performing arts of dance, music, theater and the symphony; from literary arts to culinary arts to festivals and the varied celebrations of all these things.

In a column elsewhere on this page, Dan Bowers accurately makes the case that public investment in the arts produces a host of benefits: economic development, job growth, tourism and quality of life. He also refers to a study, not ironically, by Dallas educators that also confirmed that making participation in many forms of art available to students helped raise achievement levels and reduce drop-outs by giving students other means of engagement, interest and self-growth.

The reason is hardly a mystery. Participation in most any form of art, as an observer, listener or a doer, expands sensory, spiritual and interpersonal connections; it calms the soul even as it stimulates empathy, engagement, learning and a sense of well-being.

Political leaders should know this intuitively. The city and county need the dividends of public investment in support of the arts -- from an occasional purchase of public sculpture, to educational programs, to appropriations to help sustain the community's arts organizations. The arts contribute as much to the human infrastructure of the community and its goals as anything else local governments do. The arts are essential civic infrastructure. They merit clear-eyed support.

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aae1049 said...

For those that want art, have bake sales, fundraisers, but don't ask for $265,000 annually in our property tax dollars to fund blatant cronyism in taxpayer funded art. As it turns out many of the "sculpture" pieces are relatives of board members. That Blue Rhino has a little too much all in the family. Love art, just do it with your own cash, not off the tables of people barely able to provide essentials for their family. It make yous sound so, "let them eat cake," we got a rhino to pay for.

BTW, Harry before you retire could I snap of photo of you riding the rhino? just asking. http://littlechicagowatch.com/nonprofitwaste/

April 11, 2013 at 12:11 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

I actually like the Blue Rhino but didn't think it should have been purchased at that cost. Have artists donate or offer their work at big discounts in exchange for getting their names out frequently.

April 11, 2013 at 12:26 a.m.
nucanuck said...

Great art has often been publicly funded down through the ages. The current general regression away from art and science seems to be a move toward a new Dark Age. Let us hope that that minority movement can be contained and reversed.

April 11, 2013 at 12:30 a.m.
AndrewLohr said...

$265,000 a year for 160,000 people. say $1.65 apiece. My city tax bill was around $300. My wife and I have two kids plus four half-kids (custody shared), count as two more for us and two for the other parent, total six people in this household. We'll take our $1.65 x 6 = 9.90, please. Seriously, lots of things the city does could be put on an optional basis this way--golf courses, hotels...so newcanuck can chip in his extra bit, if he wants, and those of us who'd rather spend our art money on used books and 39-cent videotapes at America's Thrift Store can do that.

April 11, 2013 at 1:28 a.m.
nucanuck said...

Andrew, I thought you were a Georgia boy who did not pay Chattanooga tax at all. I no longer live there, but I am happy for them to spend some of my property tax on art. Quality of life items are hard to put a price on. As a mater of fact, I would be happy to pay your share as well in hopes that you feel enriched by visiting a city that takes pride in itself.

April 11, 2013 at 2:01 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

If they can't weld, cast, cut, or coat, then they won't be able to build a sculpture. Any fool can complain about art. Qualified builders aren't the ones who are groaning.

April 11, 2013 at 6:52 a.m.
shen said...

Advanced civilizations have always supported art and the arts. Art hasn't only influenced explorations and scientific discoveres, it also gives insight into the life and times in which they were made, and into the personalities of the men and women who made them. Almost no other form of human activity has reflected as many of the different elements which combine to make history

Even Hitler was aware of the power and influence of art on civilisations. In 1918 Austria was declared a republic. The Habsburg of Vienna, once the international center of Europe, a powerful dynasty who had ruled for more than 200 years and heavily supported art, art collection became state property. Twenty years later, Htiler, who had always disliked Vienna, which he considered too cosmopolitan made plans to reduce the capitol's importance and create a new industrial and cultural center at Linz, his mother's birthplace. For the future Linz museum he formed a huge collection of works of art confiscated or brought in occupied countris during the recent war. Some of the tapestries from the state collections were found among these--perhaps an indication of his intentions had he been victorious.

excerpts from: The Vienna Treasures--1950

April 11, 2013 at 10:33 a.m.
mountainlaurel said...

Well stated commentary. I love that big Blue Rhino. It was good investment. It says Chattanooga is a family friendly city with a little culture.

April 11, 2013 at 10:52 a.m.
cooljb said...

Police protection, streets to drive on, fire protection, etc.. That is what cities are for, not a few determining and buying art they deem in needed with tax money. Are you kidding me, the city needs to be in the art business? Is this a comedy page? Also this is from wiki concerning Cowboy Stadium: "Cowboys Stadium is the only NFL stadium that is completely inaccessible via public transportation, including bus, light rail, or people mover systems.[25] The only way to get to the stadium is via car or private shuttle. The stadium is situated in an area of Arlington that is predominantly residential. Thus, traffic congestion and infrastructure are not adequate to handle the crowds, leading to major delays during events. Many of the neighborhoods in the surrounding areas do not have sidewalks, leading to dangerous situations for pedestrians. The stadium is not near the major urban cores of Fort Worth or Dallas, leading to a diminished fan experience outside the stadium's walls. On September 1, 2012, thousands of fans were forced to wait hours after the Alabama vs Michigan football game for cab rides, due to lack of transportation infrastructure. This led to multiple hour long waits for thousands of event goers." You left that part out,so all of that lovely art money could have been used to provide some essentials, exactly what the art naysayers are proposing, PROVIDE THE ESSENTIALS FIRST! And yes, lots of tax money was used in the building of the stadium.

April 11, 2013 at 7:53 p.m.
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