No art money

By Andy Balaskovitz

Lansing City Council looks like it will stop short of appropriating funding for public art … for now

It appears the Lansing City Council will hold off on appropriating money for public art in the annual budget, opting for a less formal set of guidelines and procedures for installing works throughout the city.

In recent weeks, the Council’s General Services Committee has been considering establishing an arts commission that, among other duties, would oversee budget dollars devoted to purchasing public art. Lansing is unlike most nearby municipalities by not having a process for commissioning public works. Some places, such as East Lansing, devote a portion of its annual budget toward purchasing public art.

Proponents say public art is crucial for making cities and towns unique, creating a “sense of place” and even serving as an economic driver.

Lansing City Councilwoman Jessica Yorko, who chairs General Services, said Monday that the committee is looking closely at DeWitt Township’s “public art guidelines,” a four-page document that states the township’s goals, the art selection process and funding options. Since the policy was adopted in 2012, DeWitt Township has not set aside funding for buying public art. However, township Manager Rod Taylor said the township is considering setting aside an amount as a budget line item in the next fiscal year.

Known as a “percent for art,” some communities require 1 percent of the costs of a Capital Improvement Project — such as installing sidewalks or upgrading infrastructure or facilities — go toward commissioning art at the site of the project. Yorko has been working with the Arts Council of Greater Lansing on a policy. In one draft, the Arts Council recommended 3 percent of money spent on Capital Improvement Projects go toward purchasing art at the project site, which equals about $325,000.

“I did not get the sense that there was a feeling of comfort for that concept in the committee,” Yorko said. Adopting the DeWitt model, she added, would at least qualify the city for annual public-art grants issued by the Lansing Economic Area Partnership. “The other committee members (Carol Wood and Jody Washington) both indicated that they would feel comfortable with the DeWitt version.

“We decided to move forward quickly, swiftly with a resolution that establishes an internal policy, like what DeWitt has done, and then continue the conversation about other options for a commission, an advisory board, a percent set-aside or allocation from the budget,” Yorko said.

DeWitt’s policy states the purpose and goals for public art; allows the township supervisor to set up an ad-hoc committee to oversee the selection process — which comes in three phases — and issuing a Request for Proposals. “The Township will financially support the installation and maintenance of public art whenever possible within the constraints of the yearly budget,” DeWitt’s guidelines say.

Taylor could not specify how much has been spent from the township’s general fund on installation and maintenance, though he said it was “minimal.” The discussion about setting aside dollars will likely be revisited, he said: “To allocate limited tax dollars with no very specific defined project just didn’t make sense for us today.”

In the meantime, Yorko said the city will continue to try and fund public art through grants and donations. Like in DeWitt, a general fund set-aside will likely surface again.

“Honestly what I think the committee wants is to hear more from the public,” Yorko said.