The Brit-pop '70s band 10CC used to sing “Art for art’s sake, money for God’s sake.” The Las Vegas City Council, or at least its recommending subcommittee, might have hummed the song Tuesday as it considered the intersection of money and art.
And giant flashlights. We’ll get to that.
The city, like other municipal governments around the state and the country, has an ordinance on the books that sets aside money for local art projects. Those set-asides are structured in different ways, but in Las Vegas the city sets aside 1 percent of the annual capital improvements budget.
The budget mandate has funded about $1.4 million in arts projects over the past eight years. Some of the projects that have benefited from the fund have been the large, neon-colored paint brushes in the Arts District downtown and the memorial statue at Police Memorial Park on the city’s west side.
The recommending subcommittee voted 2-1 Tuesday to preserve the existing set-aside. That recommendation goes to the full seven-member council for consideration May 15.
Councilman Bob Beers, a subcommittee member, has proposed eliminating the funding mandate and allowing the council to instead decide how much, if any, funding for arts projects should come from the city’s general fund. Beers said he supports public arts projects, but he argued that in a time of lean city budgets, the city council needs the authority to fund staff positions rather than art projects.
But a series of speakers urged the recommending committee to preserve the existing formula. One of those speaking for the 1 percent set-aside was Bill Marion, who was serving as chairman of the Las Vegas Arts Commission in 2003, when the city council adopted the rule.
“That is the thing that I was most proud of,” Marion said.
He lit up a larger discussion of arts, and arts funding, with a reference to the 38-foot-tall sculpture of an inverted flashlight at UNLV. There were critics of the steel sculpture by artists Claus Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen when it was dedicated in 1981. But today people love the sculpture as incorporating and promoting art on the campus, he said.
Councilman Bob Coffin, who with Councilman Stavros Anthony voted to continue the set-aside, agreed that the flashlight has built a following.
“I’ve learned to stop worrying and love the flashlight,” Coffin said.
The flashlight is not, Beers grumbled, actually in the city of Las Vegas. But Marion said the flashlight stands as a symbol of what public funding for art can accomplish.
“I think it (public arts funding) has helped Las Vegas and I think it has enhanced our reputation,” Marion said.
Another voice for the existing funding formula was Julie Murray, a founder of the Three Square Food Bank and now chief executive officer with the Moonridge Group Philanthropic Advisers. She said that she’s always primarily been concerned with “basic human needs” of food and shelter.
“The arts have a way to touch your heart and soul which is equally important,” she said.