Jackson examines public funding for art

By Cody Cottier

Jackson Hole News&Guide

Via Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — Jackson’s public art collection may get a boost as elected officials consider a policy that would guarantee every government project comes with a dose of creativity and culture.

Carrie Geraci, the town’s public art coordinator, wants to adopt a “percent for art” ordinance, which would require that each capital project budget designate 1.5% of the overall cost for artistic endeavors. Since Geraci founded the nonprofit Jackson Hole Public Art in 2010, art installations have popped up around town, mostly thanks to private funding.

“This is a piece that’s missing,” she said. “Ten thousand dollars of a $1 million budget for the arts is very, very little ... and I think it enhances the project.”

Of the 1.5% allocation for art, 1% would cover the cost of the commission, and the other half a percent would go toward administration and maintenance. There would be a cap at $200,000, regardless of the project’s overall cost.

Every work Public Art has commissioned has given form to the community’s cultural and environmental heritage, Geraci said, and the ordinance would help the group uphold that mission.

“Today’s public art is tomorrow’s history,” she said. “Those pieces are part of telling the next generation the stories that are important to us today.”

She recently pitched the idea to the Town Council, which mostly approved of the concept. Several hundred American municipalities and 27 states have implemented percent for art ordinances, dating back to the 1960s. Geraci is reading similar ones from peer communities like Vail and Aspen in Colorado; Park City, Utah; and Sun Valley, Idaho, which, at 5%, designates the highest percent for art in the country. Based on those, she will draft one specifically for Jackson.

Mayor Pete Muldoon likened it to the other demands the town makes of public projects, such as requiring a certain number of parking spaces.

“To me,” he said, “it’s a commitment that when we’re going to build public infrastructure, we’re going to make it great.”

The town has supported public art components in past projects, such as utility box wraps and the glass bricks at the Home Ranch Welcome Center. That piece by Made owner and glass artist John Frechette, called “Strands,” was made possible by $30,000 in government funding.

But by and large, Jackson’s public art is the result of private donations, and that will remain an important funding source. Besides simply adding money to the public art program, Geraci said, the ordinance will make it easier to leverage private investment.

Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson anticipated criticism of the ordinance. When the town already struggles to house local workers, how can it justify funding public art? But she argued those creative touches will be part of the glue that holds the growing community together.

“As we do become denser and we have these sorts of conversations,” she said, “it’s these little pieces that will make each individual feel more connected to their neighborhood and the land.”

Councilor Jonathan Schechter agreed, saying it’s important for government to promote the arts and not focus solely on pragmatic matters.

Not everyone was enthusiastic. Councilor Jim Stanford said he doesn’t want to be “shackled” to an ordinance. He prefers the status quo outlined in the town’s Public Art Guidelines, under which the town chooses whether to allocate funding for art when it considers each project.

“We are so blessed with riches aesthetically [and] naturally,” Stanford said, “that we don’t need to force art installations into every single project we do.”

Rather than using the funding to incorporate art into each project, Geraci said, the ordinance would simply pool money to support a select few larger pieces. Overseeing each project requires a major investment of Public Art’s time.

For example, it may not be worth it to include art each time the town reconstructs a short stretch of sidewalk. So the allocation from many small projects could go toward something larger, for example beautifying the site of the Broadway landslide (see sidebar).

“The idea is to not have tons and tons of projects, but to have a couple meaningful ones that really do enhance the places we gather as a community,” she said. “This doesn’t mean there’s going to be an inundation of public art.”