The Million Dollar Question: Where is Richmond’s Public Art Funding?
This piece Originally ran on RVAMag.com 3/4/13
About a month ago, I was at a reception with a number of the city’s movers and shakers. At one point, I was speaking with a high-ranking city official about the upcoming Richmond Mural Project, which RVA Magazine, in collaboration with Art Whino, is currently putting together. I said that we have had a hard time getting funding, and in response, he mentioned that the Public Arts Commission has been allocated a million dollars with which to fund local public arts.
My mind started racing. A million dollars would be more than enough to fund every ongoing major public arts project in Richmond for several years. The thought was exciting and infuriating at the same time. When RVA Magazine and Art Whino produced the G40 Mural Project in 2012, we did so with almost no outside funding. The G40 was the definition of local public art, yet we were told that the city had no money available to fund it. Plenty of other local art projects could use funding as well: First Fridays, The RVA Street Art Festival, various Art 180 projects, and 1708 Gallery’s annual InLight Richmond project, just to name a few. City Hall and its marketing group, Venture Richmond, use these projects as the thrust of their efforts to market RVA as a creative city, yet little or no funding for any of them is offered by the city, and these groups get played against each other for the little that’s made available. This situation only makes it harder for local artistic groups to come together and collaborate for the overall improvement of RVA’s artistic community.
Now I’m hearing from a local official that the city has a million of our tax dollars allotted to fund public art projects. Really? I got curious and started digging. What I quickly learned is that the figure is actually $1.3 million–and no one can find it. In August 2011, Vernal Coleman of Style Weekly reported that:
Back in 1997, City Council passed legislation that earmarks 1 percent of the total budget of any city-funded construction project that costs more than $250,000 for the development of public art. The recently approved jail plan, including Tompkins Builders’ and S.B. Ballard Construction’s $116.6 million construction contract, will cost the city a total of $134.6 million. By law, the [Public Art] commission will receive a little more than $1.3 million of the total funds.
In that article and on the PAC’s government website, local artist Sally Bowring is mentioned as the chair. When I contacted her to see how someone would apply for these funds and how much was available, she responded that she was no longer part of the PAC and that I should speak to local artist Ed Trask and city councilman Jon Baliles. Trask and Baliles are the team behind the RVA Street Art Festival, another project that could compete for the same pool of art funding that the Richmond Mural Project would like to apply for. I’m in ongoing talks with them, but the fact that I’m having to reach out to them while they are struggling to find funding themselves is not an ideal situation. I have tried to obtain another point of contact to discuss the funds, but thus far I’ve found nothing.
Continuing to dig, I found this Richmond Times Dispatch article from January of last year. Will Jones of the RTD reports that “Richmond’s public-art requirements could be scaled back as the city faces the prospect of spending $3 million on sculptures and other artwork for its new jail and four new schools.” In the article, you can read Sally Bowring’s frustration at finally having the funding to do great public art and then having it taken away:
Sally Bowring, chairwoman of the city’s Public Art Commission, said she understands the concern about spending so much on public art, particularly in a sluggish economy. But she added that limiting public-art projects is shortsighted because art endures and helps to define a city.
A great city has great public art,” she said. “To put a cap on that is to put a cap on our possibilities.”
Sally Bowring was clearly frustrated with the situation as it stood a year ago, which could explain why she’s no longer chairing the PAC. To my knowledge there is no one being nominated to replace her as the chair in the near term. So what happens next? I would guess that the money will go away quietly, with none the wiser. Is that what we as a city want? I encourage everyone reading this to make their voices heard. Please take the time to contact the following people and inquire about the PAC Percent For Art Funds. Maybe together we can find some answers.
Public Arts Commission -http://www.richmondgov.com/CommissionPublicArt/index.aspx
Matthew Ebinger 804 646 6308 Matthew.Ebinger@richmondgov.com
Douglas Dunlap 804 646 6822 Douglas.Dunlap@richmondgov.com
Charles Samuels firstname.lastname@example.org
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