Chattanooga's public art expense questioned

Chattanooga's public art expense questioned

February 21st, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

Staff Photo by John Rawlston "Arriving Home," a sculpture by Dennis Oppenheim in Miller Plaza, is seen Thursday at twilight framing the EPB Building. It is the second of four pieces acquired by the Hunter Museum of Art to be installed in Chattanooga public spaces.

City Councilman Jack Benson says he wants the council to spend more time discussing whether to spend $20,000 on public art in Chattanooga.

He wants to put the brakes on funding public art while the council sees how the 2011-12 fiscal year budget is shaping up.

"I think it's reasonable," Benson said. "I think it needs to be looked at in light of how much money this city is going to spend this year."

The public art program has been contentious for a number of years, with many saying the city spends too much on the statues and art fixtures scattered around town.

Chattanooga spent $100,000 annually on public art until this year, said Peggy Townsend, director of the public art program. This year, the city decided to spend $20,000 on the program.

The expenditure came up last Tuesday during a City Council meeting. The council voted 7-2 to spend the $20,000 for administration costs. The Lyndhurst Foundation promised to give a $40,000 grant to the program.

But Benson said the $20,000 could be too much in light of the economy and said he would bring the resolution up again at the next council meeting.

He said he accidentally voted "yes" for the resolution, thinking he was voting on a motion to defer the resolution rather than actually OK it. Since he wound up on the winning side of the vote, he needs another council member to help bring it back up for another vote.

Whether he could find that vote remains to be seen.

Council Chairman Manny Rico said he did not see much room for getting the resolution overturned.

Councilwoman Pam Ladd, who voted against the resolution, agreed. Even if Benson voted against it, she said, it would take two more votes to overturn it altogether.

"I don't know if you are going to get a different outcome," she said.

The public art program has a budget this year of more than $350,000, which includes the city's $20,000 contribution. Townsend said the $20,000 contribution helps raise about $1.5 million to $2 million annually in foundation and federal funds for public art.

"The city gets a lot for a little," she said.

Parks and Recreation Director Larry Zehnder said Friday he may try to give a presentation to the council detailing how much funding comes from the city and what the money helps pay for.

"I think it's more than a vote that needs to be discussed," he said.

PUBLIC ART

* $353,830: Budget for public art, including private and city contributions

* $40,000: Lyndhurst grant for the public art program

* $20,000: City contribution for the Lyndhurst grant and amount the city is putting into public art for the 2010-11 fiscal year.