Advocating for the arts

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September 28, 2009 // UPDATED 8:41 am - September 28, 2009
By: Amanda Kushner
Amanda Kushner
Members of the city’s Arts Commission fear public art projects will be a casualty of budget cuts


City art enthusiasts are worried about the future of public art projects in Minneapolis.

Mayor R.T. Rybak’s proposed budget calls for more than $100 million in cuts in the city budget, and every department is contributing to the solution, said Jeremy Hanson, spokesman for the mayor.

Members of the Minneapolis Arts Commission fear if the City Council approves the budget in December as currently proposed, public art projects will be on the decline in the city.

The proposed budget would eliminate the cultural arts coordinator position, and 50 percent of the public art administrator’s salary would come from the public art capital fund. The public art capital fund has been $250,000 for the past few years, said Public Art Administrator Mary Altman.

Of the $215,000 in cuts proposed from Community Planning & Economic Development (CPED), a significant portion of this cut would be achieved through the elimination of the cultural arts coordinator position, which has a salary of about $88,000.

Additional proposed cuts in CPED are to reduce the division’s program assistant hours by 20 percent and to reduce stipends for three of the department’s five citizen boards.


Cuts make commission cringe

“The suggestion seems to be that the city is less interested in being in the business of managing arts and creating public arts in the city,” said Minneapolis Arts Commission Chair Tim Gihring.

Although some may argue the city shouldn’t be in that business, Minneapolis is competing with other cities to create an inspiring and engaging place to live, he said.

“I always cringe when I hear about another cut, or when I hear people put down the arts,” said Carol Daly, commissioner of the Minneapolis Arts Commission. Daly said her reaction to the proposed staff change was a real disappointment because there are only two staff members, meaning it is a 50 percent cut.

But the city must reform, cut the budget and raise taxes as a result of the state’s budget chaos, city pension obligations and the increasing cost of health care, Hanson said.

Hanson said the mayor has been an advocate for the arts publicly and a private arts booster.

“He wishes the city could play a much bigger role in the arts, but because of the financial pressures facing the city tough decisions need to be made,” he said.

Tamara Nadel, a member of the city’s Arts Commission pointed out that the arts are a major contributor to the local economy. For example, she said that between 2000 and 2008, films brought in an average of $6–$17 million each year. Film work falls under the role of the cultural arts coordinator.

“Not only do the arts contribute directly to economic development of the city, but also they bring in tourism, they bring in conventions and they allow companies that are based here … to bring in the caliber of employees that they want,” Nadel said.

Eliminating the position does not mean the service will be eliminated, Hanson said.

 “We will now look for other ways both in our planning department or development review or other arms of the city to continue to be a place where film and movies can be produced,” he said.

Krista Bergert, CPED spokeswoman, said the city is looking at who will take on permitting responsibilities formerly held by the cultural arts coordinator.

But art in the mayor’s office, mosaic support and Ivey Awards judging would no longer be provided, she said.


Obligated to speak up


In response to the proposed budget, commissioners are reaching out to city council members to advocate for the function of the cultural arts coordinator and for the public art capital fund salary to remain untouched.

Katie Cole, chair of the commission’s advocacy committee, said that under the organization’s charter they are obligated to speak up, and that’s exactly what they have started to do.

“We are basically trying to draw attention to it and point out the fact that it is really inconsistent with the arts and cultural plan that the city council adopted back in 2005, which actually called for even more city funding for cultural arts and public art,” she said.

City Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) met with Cole and Daly to discuss the budget, and Goodman said that none of the reductions are ideal, but that the planning director was forced to choose.

“There has to be a cut. The cut is in the planning department. The planning director made a recommendation to cut this position versus someone who handles applications,” Goodman said.

She added that moving the public art administrator’s salary to the capital fund is a good idea because it provides stability.

“If you can find a dedicated source for that position it likely wouldn’t be subject to further cuts whereas the cultural arts coordinator … is competing with all the other planning commission positions,” she said.

When artist and commissioner Heather Doyle spoke with City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward), she explained from the artist’s perspective what role the staff plays as a touch point to help artists wade through the city process. The commission has suggested that the cultural arts coordinator position move into the staffing of a new department — community engagement, Doyle said.

The commission is also trying to coordinate a meeting with the mayor.

And at the commission’s Sept. 16 meeting a resolution was passed which says that “it is in the best interest of the City to retain and fully fund two dedicated staff positions for arts and cultural affairs, and that the Public Art Capital Fund be dedicated solely to the creation and maintenance of public art.”

Cole said the commission is hopeful that the mayor and City Council will take note and try to save some of the cultural arts coordinator position or shift some of the public art administrator’s salary back to the general fund.


Weighing in on future of public art

On Oct. 13 the Minneapolis Arts Commission will host a panel, led by Minnesota Public Radio’s Marianne Combs, to discuss criteria including selecting public art, opportunities for artists and neighborhood involvement. Panelists include Altman; Paul Ogren, Minneapolis Public Works Department; Sarah Linnes-Robinson, Kingfield Neighborhood Association executive director; Wing Young Huie, artist; and Lonnie Nichols, Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board district planner.

The commission decides which public arts to fund after city departments submit applications of building projects, Altman said.

“The main emphasis of the public art program is really to support other city goals and services. It is really to educate and celebrate what the city does through art,” she said. “So the public art that we do is connected to the services of the city government, and it is one way to communicate to the public what the city is all about.”

Public artwork is now at Lake Hiawatha Park, the Midtown Greenway and Jackson Square Park in Northeast Minneapolis. Expect to see more art installations at Cedar Riverside, and two fountains will be installed at the Ancient Traders Market at Franklin Avenue and at the Midtown YWCA on Lake Street, Altman said.

But public arts projects take about three years, so none of these projects were funded in 2009, Altman said.

Hanson said the fountains are an example of the mayor’s commitment to funding the arts when the city has the resources to do so. And while many have criticized the city for its investment in public art and these water fountains, the mayor has defended and supported that project, Hanson said.

But with budget cuts it is possible the fountains may be affected as well.

“I think because every aspect of the city’s budget is under review and budget cuts need to be made in every area that it is very possible that the fountain project may need to be scaled back,” he said.

In Loring Park, the Loring Ramp is being painted in paint-by-number fashion as an interpretation of Monet’s water lilies, a private art project that Goodman helped to coordinate. Goodman suggests that private-public partnerships are a way to handle public art.

But Gihring is skeptical and said it is easy to think the private sector will pick up the slack. Referring to the Loring Ramp project he said, “Projects like this, when well executed, can be inspiring. Counting on the private sector to work for the benefit of the community is not an equal situation. It’s motives are not the same, generally speaking.”

Through their efforts the commission is fulfilling their obligation, Hanson said.

“People who support public art should never be satisfied. They should always be continuously pushing for more funding public and private at all levels to promote public art. And the mayor believes that,” Hanson said.

Reach Amanda Kushner at akushner@mnpubs.com.