Bend’s Arts, Beautification and Culture Commission will “go back to the drawing board” and drop its controversial draft proposal to require that large private developers devote 1 percent of their project costs to public art, including a cash donation to a public art fund, the panel’s chairwoman said this week.
Rather than propose a mandatory program, as done in several communities around the country, the panel instead will look at a program of voluntary incentives, such as a developer possibly getting faster city processing, a reduced parking-space requirement or possibly added square footage (or even added floors in a building) for taking part, said Kyla Merwin Cheney, the committee’s chairwoman, a communications consultant and former city councilor.
“This was an early, first draft distributed to a handful of stakeholders,” Merwin said. “We’re looking at keeping the requirement for public buildings, and what kind of incentives would be appropriate for private developers.” She said the eight-member commission will continue its discussions at its monthly meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 10 at noon in the City Hall board room.
The Oct. 19 draft “Community Art Ordinance” cited several benefits: “Art, accessible to citizens and visitors, infuses the community with beauty, diversity, culture and civic pride. It increases property values. It helps build upon Bend’s unique identity, image and character. It promotes tourism and economic vitality. It provides educational opportunities. It helps define our sense of place, history and heritage.”
Public art also sparks debate, even controversy, as has been evident in the pieces Art in Public Places, a 30-year, privately funded nonprofit group, has picked in recent years for spots beside the Bend Parkway and in numerous new roundabouts (traffic circles).
And the stakeholders who saw the draft ordinance weighed in, much as you might expect.
“We heard it loud and clear,” Cheney said. “What we’re going to do is go back to the drawing board, and look at what incentives are appropriate.”
The draft proposal stated that any development or redevelopment at or larger than 10,000 square feet would have been required to take part in the city’s Community Art Program, at not less than 1 percent of the building permit’s value, payable as part of the building permit fee.
Up to 75 percent of that 1 percent value would be directed toward procurement of private art, accessible to the general public and pre-approved by the ABC Commission. The other 25 percent or more would go to a Bend Public Art Fund, to be administered by the commission.
The ordinance would not have applied, however, to residential developments or buildings under 10,000 square feet.
Private developer requirement called `ill-advised’
Opposition to a required “1 percent for art” program was heard from the business and development community – but also from some strong advocates for the arts, such as Deschutes County Commissioner Tom DeWolf, a member of the Oregon Arts Commission.
“I think it is a mistake to attempt to require private business to invest in public art projects,” DeWolf said. “I can understand the uproar. The approach they are taking (in the draft ordinance), in my opinion, is ill-advised, at best.”
Mayor Oran Teater said that while the council had yet to discus the ABC proposal, “I do not think there is much council support for the 1 percent fee, and I think the community would not like it either. I am more in favor of a voluntary program that would go far to accomplish the same thing.”
The state of Oregon’s “Percent for Art” legislation, passed in 1975, requires that at least 1 percent of construction funds for new or remodeled state buildings be dedicated to acquiring art work “which may be an integral part of the building, attached thereto, or capable of display in other state buildings.” It has resulted in more than 2,500 artworks in the state’s collection, ranging from photography to mosaics.
“Public art does a lot of things a community,” Cheney said. “It does a lot of things for the people who own the building. It increases the property value of a building, because it stays with the property, if sold. How much more value it adds to the building, beyond its costs, have yet to be proven.”
“What we’ve noticed is that developers who `get it,’ do it,” Cheney said, such as Brooks Resources Corp. “The ordinance is to help demonstrate the great thing to the community, and developers as well. We’re not going to shove anything down the throats of the developers.”
Gary Peters, president and CEO of the Bend Chamber of Commerce, was among those concerned about the initial proposal, and pleased about the change in direction.
“No one is against art,” Peters said. “On the other hand, you don’t have business subsidize art. For public agencies, great.” The idea of incentives for private-sector art is “probably a good approach,” he said. “We have enough hands in the pie. We don’t need more government to tell them how to do their business. … I’m encouraged to hear the ABC is rethinking this.”
Business leaders chafe at proposal
Roger Lee, executive director of Economic Development for Central Oregon, also said that the commission’s new intentions were “a good thing to hear.” And he didn’t deny Cheney’s recollection that Lee had called the draft ordinance “ridiculous” and “arbitrary,” while she insisted it was neither.
“One percent of construction costs is completely arbitrary,” Lee said. “Maybe it should be 1 percent for the Boys and Girls Club. Maybe it should be 1 percent for seniors and disabled people. There’s so many causes out there. There’s so many things people feel strongly about, but not everybody feels that way about art.”
Incentives, instead, would be “great,” said Lee, who added, “I come from a family of artists. I support the arts myself. I feel they play a vital role in the community. But it’s not something you tack onto building costs, which are not very cheap right now.”
Cheney cited a report from the King County Public Art Program, which examined more than 50 public art programs across the U.S. and Canada. More than half (26) have policies regarding public-private partnerships, and of those, the programs in 19 communities – 11 of those in California – are mandated or legislated, while seven are voluntary programs.
In Brea, Calif., for example, a 1975 ordinance, revised twice since, requires that developers building projects worth $1.5 million or more “select, purchase and install permanent outdoor sculpture … accessible and visible to the general public from public streets,” worth at least 1 percent of the project value. It has resulted in 129 artworks, ranging from $8,000 to $1 million in cost.
Loveland, Colo., has a voluntary program, in which 1 percent of the construction cost of each major city project is placed in a reserve account for the Art in Public Places Program.
“Most programs offer a choice,” the report states. “(The) developer may select a public art project, contribute (a percentage) to a cultural trust or public art fund, or some programs split the percentage.”
Meagan Atiyeh, visual arts coordinator for the state arts commission, said she’s not aware of any Oregon community that requires private-developer participation. But she also encouraged critics to consider a broader view of what “public art” entails.
“Public art has much more of a broader application than is traditionally thought of by people, when they envision what public art will be,” she said. “Often, architects will incorporate visual elements into a design, if given the ability to hire an artist … paving elements, seating elements. It’s not always sculpture.”
Portland public-art rep sees pros, cons
Portland’s Regional Arts & Cultural Council is listed in the King County survey as offering a “mandated program,” but the “Percent for Art Bonus program” in the central city area sounds more voluntary in nature. Projects committing 1 percent or more percent to public art get additional bonus floor area ratio.
Eloise Damrosch, public art director for the Portland agency, noted that “quite a few” communities require private developers to take part in public art projects, such as Los Angeles, Broward County, Fla., and Tempe, Ariz. Others work more through incentives.
“Some places, (the requirement) has been around long enough that they don’t even question it – they just do it. In other places, it’s problematic,” said Damrosch, who taught art history at Central Oregon Community College for 12 years.
“I’m not a bit surprised that if you sit down a bunch of the development community, they don’t want it,” Damrosch said. She added that Portland’s program “works in some respects and doesn’t in others. We’re trying to `densify’ the urban growth boundary. One thing a developer can do, even to gain another floor or two on their building, which is extremely lucrative, they can pick a public art bonus. But they have other bonuses to choose from as well.”
Damrosch said more Oregon communities are adding the “1 percent for art” requirement on public projects. “Eugene has had one for some time, and we (Portland) have had ours for 23 years. Vancouver (Washington) is talking about it. Lake Oswego has one. Oregon city is preparing to have one.”
Damrosch, who spoke at a Bend forum last spring, sponsored by Art in Public Places, said she has provided some advice to the ABC Commission on how to proceed.
“I can’t tell any community how to structure a 1 percent for art program,” she said. “The issue of developers is so specific to each community, I told them (the Bend panel), `You need to talk with your community about what will fly and what won’t.'”