Council members question public art cut

Mayor Hodges is proposing no new funding for public art in 2015.

Ethan Nelson

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’ proposed 2015 budget includes no new funding for public art, and some city officials are concerned.

Historically, public art has made up 1 to 2 percent of the city’s budgets, said Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon, who represents the University of Minnesota and its surrounding areas.

“It’s worthwhile if we can get more funding,” he said.

Public art is typically found outdoors in forms like sculptures, murals and paintings. Less funding for public art could hurt businesses in areas like Northeast Minneapolis, where it’s particularly concentrated.

“Public art is an essential part of Minneapolis,” said Ward 1 City Councilman Kevin Reich, who represents a part of the Northeast neighborhood, which includes the Arts District. “For Northeast, arts means business.”

But Hodges has maintained her support for public art, pointing out $890,000 in leftover funding from past years’ budgets. About $550,000 will be available in the future.

“For now and the foreseeable future, all of our plans for public art investments and planning remain steady,” the mayor wrote on her website last week.

Both Gordon and Reich say they think the lack of funding could set a bad precedent.

And although there may be other ways to fund art for a few years, Gordon said he’s still worried.

Public art doesn’t require one purchase, Reich said. Often the costs associated with installations continue for years.

Other City Council members are waiting for more information.

“I want to make sure art retains its funding,” said Ward 3 City Councilman Jacob Frey. “But we need to make sure we know where the money’s coming from first.”

Frey noted that an increase in public art funding would likely detract from money available to other city programs.

“Since we have the resources needed to move forward on our public art plan, I decided to make sure we could move forward on other fronts as well,” Hodges wrote.

In the future, the mayor says she’ll be able to return to past practices and allocate about 2 percent of the city’s budget to public art. In 2016, she plans to include more funding for the Art in Public Places program, which is one facet of the city’s public art initiative.

Frey, who represents the parts of the University’s area and its surrounding neighborhoods, said public art is a big concern for his ward and important to maintaining a vibrant community.

Gordon and Reich said art can provide more than just aesthetic appeal.

“[Public art installments] show how one investment can leverage others,” Reich said, pointing out an installment in Northeast Minneapolis that represents energy conservation efforts. “It’s to educate, to define a community.”

Art can also help residents interact and engage with their cities, University associate art professor Christine Baeumler said in an email.

“I believe that art and artists need to [be] integrated into the systems of the city to reimagine how the city can function,” she wrote. “With that perspective in mind, artists are so essential that cutting out artists from the budget would be unthinkable.”