Marlene Reid, artist and small business owner
Bob Beers, City Councilman, Ward 2
BY AMY KINGSLEY -- The recession has forced the city council to make hard choices. And now Councilman Bob Beers wants his colleagues to choose whether public funds should be spent on art or other essential services.
Beers wants to change the Percent for the Arts fund, which allocates 1 percent of the capital improvement budget for public art projects, into a voluntary program. That would allow the city to spend that money, which adds up to an average of $150,000 a year, on other things. He said most taxpayers don’t approve of spending public funds on art.
“You take a fundamentally unpopular thing and set it on auto-pilot, putting essentially the city in the position of having to lay people off while buying art, and there being no vote of the governance structure to approve that,” Beers said. “To me, that’s immoral.”
But in a recent public hearing, not one person spoke in support of the proposed change. Instead, artists and small business owners extolled the benefits of public art. Councilman Beers dismissed the speakers as a “thin special interest.”
Marlene Reid owns a boutique in the Arts District, Vexed by Design, and she supports the city’s art program. Unlike Beers, she hears wide support for public arts, and not just from her neighbors in the Arts District.
“We don’t live in a bubble down in the Arts District,” Reid said. “We interact with people all over the valley. The consensus that I get, is that this is something that makes these difficult times easier to live in. It’s something that lifts the soul. It encourages you. It gives you hope that things will get better.”
But Beers said the arts will continue to thrive, with or without the city’s support.
“Art exists without government,” he said.