After two years, East Lansing’s Percent for Art ordinance is starting to bear fruit. The ordinance, which pulls public arts funding from public and private development projects, has already funded two public art pieces and could provide a huge influx of cash for public art projects in the city.
“It really came from the conversation about what we could do improve the arts and culture in East Lansing,” said Sarah Triplett, chairwoman of the East Lansing Arts Commission. “It was also from a desire that the city have a sustainable source of funding for public art, specifically.”
So far, the ordinance has funded two completed public art projects. DTN Management’s latest apartment complex, 300 Grand (300 W. Grand River Ave.), features a 40-by-20-foot mural that overlooks Valley Court Park. The mural was created by Tiffany Klein, owner of Lansing’s La Fille Gallery. “Mezza Luna,” a metal kinetic sculpture that moves in the wind, was created for Lake Trust Credit Union’s new Lake Lansing Road branch (1300 W. Lake Lansing Road) by California-based artist Jeffery Laudenslager. There is also an upcoming donation of $25,000 by the Cottages apartment complex, as well as seven other projects that are in discussions with the East Lansing Art Commission. According to Triplett, the overall response has been positive.
“This is something that developers really hadn’t done before, so we wondered what they were going to bring to the table,” Triplett said. “I was tremendously surprised by their level of creativity and enthusiasm.”
Andrew Barrone, owner of University Marathon at the corner of Saginaw Highway and Abbot Road, is one of the developers slated to display art at his business. His existing gas station will be torn down in late March or early April to create an updated service station in the same spot called Barrone Auto Wash. Barrone’s idea for art in that location is to install something “along the lines of an outdoor public gallery.”
“We would take artists, and they could range from grade school kids to college kids to professionals, on six panels designed into or above the building,” Barrone said. “Their drawings would be transferred to a canvas almost like a banner, so it would handle the weather.”
Barrone said he is excited that the ordinance will bring more art to East Lansing, but he sees why some developers might take issue with displaying art on their premises because of branding or legal issues.
“You can’t not like the idea of bringing art in,” Barrone said. “But I also can see why people just pay the tax and move on. You take somebody big like Costco, and there’s no way they’re going to do that, because they’ve got attorneys up the yin yang.”
The wholesaler did, in fact, choose to donate $25,000 to the art fund as part of its recently approved $30 million East Lansing development.
The Percent for Art ordinance, officially known at Ordinance No. 1339, went into effect October 2014. Before the ordinance, city-funded art projects were decided on an ad hoc basis, considering opportunities separately as they arose. One such project, the “Raising Harmony” sculpture, was erected in front of City Hall to honor late former City Councilwoman Mary P. Sharp. But East Lansing citizens and city workers argued that the city’s funding of art was inconsistent in both funding and efficacy. Former Mayor Nathan Triplett led the charge from the City Council side to design a sustainable way for the city to fund and implement public art.
“The point of the percent for art was to not in any way diminish those prior efforts,” Triplett said. “Instead of forcing people to have to come together and do this and recreate the wheel every time the community wants to build a piece of public art, we should have an established and sustained process and funding mechanism — and not just every few years to mark an occasion like the centennial.”
After poring over hundreds of policies from community art programs across the United States, Triplett cobbled together a plan to address East Lansing’s specific needs. The ordinance created a system that pulls arts funding from public and private developments of $500,000 or more.
“On the public side, the ordinance requires the city set aside 1 percent of the value of the capital improvement paid for by the general fund in a budget year to the public art fund,” Triplett said. “The more complex side is the private component of the ordinance.”
When private developers apply for permits from the city, they have three options.
They can allocate 1 percent of the total project cost, up to $25,000, to an on-site public art display, donate that amount to the city’s public art fund or donate a piece of art valued at that amount to the city. The goal is to give a variety of options to fit the needs of a variety of developers.
Triplett said that the ordinance still has kinks that need to be worked out, including formalizing procedures to allocate donated money and creating an easily accessible list of public art projects, but he thinks the young program could have a lasting impact on the city. And he points to the list of projects in the works as evidence that businesses are on board.
“I don’t believe the ordinance creates a burden to developing in East Lansing,” he said. “I think you’ve seen that since the implementation of the ordinance.”