Who pays for this stuff?!
A very typical question! Public art gets funded in a number of ways. You will be interested to know that the US government has been commissioning public art, particularly memorials since the late 1700’s. Of course the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were doing it thousands of years ago. Some even consider the cave paintings in Lascaux a form of ritualistic public art. And maybe even Stonehenge….yes some public art can indeed contain a function too.
In the USA there was a proliferation of public art after President Kennedy signed into law in the early 1960’s what is known as the “one percent for art law”, after realizing that Europe far outpaced the USA in terms of a cultural heritage and legacy. This program first became known as the Federal Art in Public Places Program, which mandated that ½% to 1% of all new and renovation construction costs of any federal building be allocated towards the purchase of art accessible to all Americans. This became known as “The Percent for Art Program”, was voted on by the Legislature, and was administered by the General Services Administration and the National Endowment for the Arts. Long before that, FDR also backed a government funded public art program in the 1930’s as part of the Works Project Administration (WPA) that commissioned artists who were crushed by the Great Depression. In both cases new art was commissioned for federal post offices, tax centers and judicial buildings, and our cultural heritage began.
States, counties and many municipalities also created Percent for Art Programs following similar guidelines, so here in Washington State we have federal projects, state projects (administered by the Washington State Arts Commission), county projects and city projects. The former Seattle Arts Commission and King County Arts Commission (now known as The Office of Arts and Culture, and 4Culture respectively) became renowned in the 1970’s and 1980’s as administrators and commissioners of some of the most innovative public art created in America.
Other forms of public art funding include private funding, usually in the form of private donations from wealthy donors. Examples of this can be seen on the UW campus as well as in the Olympic Sculpture Park. Donors can donate artworks to public institutions and receive the current appraised value of the work as a tax write-off, in some cases reaching millions of dollars. Sometimes citizen action groups raise funds to create public memorials of heroes or victims of tragedies. And occasionally, artists self-fund works that are usually sanctioned by the appropriate government agency, or they create impromptu “guerilla” artworks that mysteriously appear, engage the audience temporarily, and then mysteriously disappear. A giant monolith, for example appeared for a day on Kite Hill in Magnuson Park, Seattle, on New Year’s Day 2001!
In my next entry I’ll discuss how public art gets picked. Til then “You Call That Art?!”
Watch an excerpt from the public TV program, You Call That Art?! about the “one percent for art law.”