Monday, September 21, 2009

A Public Art Project in Jeopardy

I'm posting a letter here that I am sending to the Orange Co FL Board of County Commissioners due to a discussion at last Thursday's meeting of withdrawing budgeted art funding for the new Orange Co Medical Examiners building. Two of the commissioners brought up their concern for spending money on art for the facility in spite of the building being substantially under budget and the artist winning a competition for the job having been notified. The press was invited by one of the two commissioners and the contract for $55,000 of art (1/3 or 1%overall budget) was presented as a boondoggle of taxpayers money. Thats red meat for the fiscal hawks so further criticism will probably ensue. I'm hoping the artists of the area will register their displeasure with this and stand up for public art as an important statement of our values.

Dear Mayor Crotty and Commissioners:
My name is Stephen Bach and I am a free lance artist working from the McRae Art Studios in Winter Park. I have been a resident of Orange Co for 50 years this month.
I am writing in regard to the art acquisition budget for the Orange County Medical Examiners Building. I am asking that the money be retained for the project as planned and the county not pursue loaned, donated or student work.

As an artist, we are asked to donate work and time to numerous charities every year. Winter Park Library, Maitland Art Center, Cancer fundraising, school benefits, we contribute frequently though tax code allows no deductions for those donations. While it is satisfying to give back we also have to sell our work to survive. My monthly income is solely based on what I have sold. No one else pays my health insurance, my studio costs or travel bills

The discussion of funding for the Medical Examiners building was brought up at the Sept 15th County Commission meeting where it was suggested by Commissioners Fernandez and Boyd that the money could be better spent in the taxpayers name by reverting to general funds. It was further suggested that the possibility of donated or loaned work be looked into or young emerging artists work be featured. County figures say the building is nearly 1.5 million dollars under budget and the expenditure is 1/3rd of 1% total funding.

When this art project was put out for competition, the notice was clear that this was a sensitive assignment and in reading the letter sent to the applying artists, the goal was to secure artwork to fit a public structure that “will embrace grieving families in a calming and soothing atmosphere as they come to deal with the passing of a family member”.
Based on this description, I would suggest this is not a job that can allow found art that can be adapted. In fact my opinion is if there was only one job that public art should be specifically commissioned, this would be it.

I am not complaining that an out of state artist won the contract for the project. I am saying it is inappropriate first to withdraw the award and secondly, a fool’s task to look for a cheap way of fulfilling the goals of a sensitive project such as this. I also think it made a disappointing statement on the perceived value of those in this community, your constituents, who work in the art profession. If there was a need to save $55,000, perhaps that amount could have been cut from the overall building budget when the job was put out to bid. For the artist to bear the whole cut or a huge percentage of the money seems unfair especially in light of the job being so far under budget.

I hope the Commission will take these points to heart and leave in place the funding for art acquisition - to this project and future ones. I also look forward to clarification and release of information regarding county ordinance as it pertains to funding for public art.
Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you expressed this to the commission, since the art for this project was originally considered an important enough part of the project to pursue through competition.

    While showcasing works of emerging artists could have certainly been part of the original plan; that cannot substitute in whole for a permanent collection designed specifically for the project any more than using borrowed or donated furnishings to substitute for those specifically selected for the function and design of the space.