Plan for public art 

"It's a wonderful plan

“It’s a wonderful plan,” declared Brian Payne, President of the Central Indiana Community Foundation and a member of the city’s Cultural Development Commission, at the unveiling of the new master plan for public art last week at the Eiteljorg Museum. “This is all do-able as far as I’m concerned.” Prepared by the Freeman/ Whitehurst Group of Phoenix, AZ, the plan was commissioned a year ago by the Arts Council of Indianapolis. Freeman/Whitehurst is a nationally recognized authority in the field of public art. The Indianapolis plan consists of a sequence of recommendations for the establishment of a public art program. It calls for a strong connection between public art in Indianapolis and the city’s highly regarded resources and expertise in public history. But before the plan can be realized, it must first undergo a public input process and, beyond that, an exercise in practical politics during which members of the Cultural Development Commission, the Arts Council and City government will discuss priorities and implementation of recommendations. As the Commission Chair, Justice Ted Boehm, put it, “Some of these pieces will fall out,” through the process of getting buy-in from all the parties involved. The key issue to watch is likely to be whether or not the City is willing to adopt the plan’s recommendation that Indianapolis adopt a percent for art ordinance. Such an ordinance would create a funding mechanism for public art on public property. This means that whenever the city would undertake a building project of any kind, a certain percentage of the budget — one or 1.5 percent, say — would be dedicated to an art component. The earliest percent for art program was started in Philadelphia in 1959; there are now over 200 programs in communities across the country. Freeman/Whitehurst points out that passage of a percent for art ordinance will formalize the city’s public art program and significantly increase its impact. In the first place, this approach directly ties art to projects citizens perceive as necessary. As the master plan states: “Since so much of public art funding is directly tied to capital improvements such as infrastructure — streets, water treatment facilities, recycling centers, transit, sewers, etc. — it makes a lot of sense to put the money where the most impact can be felt.” The fact that this plan arrives in the midst of a community uproar over property taxes, and at a moment when Mayor Peterson is publicly trying to cut the city’s budget wherever he can, may help explain his representative, Keira Amstutz’s, carefully measured response. She characterized the plan as “a detailed proposal that needs to go through several layers of investigation … We’re excited about the possibilities,” she added, “but it’s going to take a lot of investigation.” In the meantime, the Arts Council is going to hire a part-time person to begin implementing some of the plan’s short-term action steps during the next six months. A summary of the draft plan will be posted on and for review and further information. Printed plans will be available this fall.

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David Hoppe

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