Raleigh earmarks hundreds of thousands for public art

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A couple of new road construction projects in Raleigh will be more than ways to move traffic – they’ll also be places that will showcase public works of art.

But some are asking could that tax money be better spent elsewhere?

Back in the mid-90s, the City of Raleigh paid $50,000 for the sculpture called “Light Plus Time.”

To many, it looks like a communications tower with solar panels but it’s not.

It’s artwork created by artist Dale Eldred.

It was controversial when it was erected and received mixed reviews.

Now, some are questioning whether the City ought to pay for art on two bridges being constructed along Capital Boulevard.

Some of the money for the art on the Peace Street and Wade Avenue bridges comes from the City of Raleigh as part of the One Percent For Art program.

Back in 2009, the city council passed an ordinance setting aside one half of one percent of municipal construction funds for art. At the time, then city councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin said, “We need to keep in mind the arts are an economic generator and do provide jobs to citizens.”

In 2016, the council approved increasing that set aside to one percent.

“That ordnance is out of control,” claims government watchdog Joey Stansbury of the group Wake Watch. “Simply put, that ordinance should be revisited and eliminated entirely.”

The construction of the bridges are North Carolina Department of Transportation projects, and it’s paying for most of the project. But, Raleigh is kicking in more than $800,000 for the artwork.

CBS North Carolina wanted to know if taxpayers like the idea of the art set-aside.

Emily Fausch said she favors art spending.

“Public art is a great idea,” she said.

And she said she’d like to see it “bridge decks or on any construction project.”

Javier Sousa also favors spending money on public art and says the bridge decks are perfect for that kind of project saying “if you think of any major city it has landmarks.”

The City has lots of public art placed all around Raleigh to enhance our open spaces.

Sometimes, it’s privately funded like the shimmer wall which was paid for by Cree. Sometimes it’s publicly funded which is overseen by a public art and design board.

When the City funded raises for police and firefighters there was a tax increase that went along with it. Stansbury believes the money used for the art set aside could be better spent elsewhere like keeping taxes lower when funding things like firefighter and police raises.

“It’s things such as this: artwork for bridges that are driving tax increase in the city of Raleigh,” Stansbury said.

But the city disagrees. Spokesman John Boyette saying,” In the current budget the council was able to achieve two of its goals: increase pay for City employee, including Fire and Police, and support the arts.

He also says, “The City Council feels the arts are very important to the community and are worthy of this level of investment.”

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