Baltimore Proposes Mandated Spending for Public Art and Sculptures

baltimore art

Sculptor David Hess’ “Inertia Study” at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School is an example of work funded by an optional city program that sets aside money for art. A Dixon administration proposal would require such set-asides. (Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam)

Now Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon’s administration has introduced a proposal that would mandate that all publicly funded city construction projects must set aside 1 percent of costs for public art, When you eyeball some of the weird ways that such funding has been applied in the past, taxpayers should rise up and protest this new spending splurge. The range of public art already covers the entire spectrum from the vacuous to the obscene — do we really need to encourage a proliferation of such projects with public funds?

Public art – where profundity and vagueness seemingly co-exist – sprouts in forms vast and varied in pockets across the city.

Now, city officials hope to add to the conspicuous and sometimes not-so-conspicuous structures with a proposal that would require all publicly funded city construction projects to set aside 1 percent of costs for public art, a concept that is widely used around the country and that thrived in Baltimore decades ago.

The proposal, introduced by Mayor Sheila Dixon’s administration this week, expands on the current law, which city officials say dates to 1964 and was generously used by William Donald Schaefer when he was mayor.

But the existing law is more of an option than a mandate, said William Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. The new proposal would funnel 1 percent of the cost of any parking garage, bridge or street into a fund, which could be used flexibly – for new public art projects or the maintenance of existing ones, he said.

City officials expect little opposition to the proposal, but some say they would like to strengthen it by including private developers who receive public subsidies, and by ensuring that schools – whose construction is largely funded by the state – are included.

We are talking some very big bucks here — especially if they succeed in expanding the initiative to include school construction projects. I remember back to my days on the Princeton University campus where I never could figure out what people saw in some of the grotesque modern sculptures sprinkled around the grounds. True, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” — but I always felt these “artists” were just laughing at the rest of us as they deposited their fat paychecks in their stock portfolios.

Now if you want a more practical example from the private sector of where an aspiring artist has put his talents to good use, you need look no further than Alban Tractor’s new display of its famous Cateraptasauras outside of our Compact Construction Equipment showroorm on Pulaski Highway.

Caterapt caterapt2

Constructed from old Caterpillar parts, it attracts a lot of attention from the Route 40 crowd. No impressionistic art here — you can tell exactly what type of creature is on display. And the taxpayer coffers were not robbed to permit this indulgence. There is certainly a place for publicly funded art projects; the amount of reasonable investment could be debated; but my biggest concern would be what type of end product would the people receive — and there is no easy solution for that highly subjective debate.

1 Comment

  1. Steve Kirchner

    The inertia study failed to move me.
    At least he was not reinventing the wheel.
    Oh wait…