The county commissioner talks about arts funding, her new proposal to divert some county funds to culture, and why Clark County needs to catch up with Reno and Las Vegas. A public hearing on her proposal will be held on Tuesday, June 19.
What’s your favorite piece of public art?
Well, today we did the Yarnstormers on the bridge over Maryland Parkway that’s actually kind of unique in and of itself. It was hand-knitted yarn pieces formed into a piece of art by the West Flamingo Senior Center. It really pops, and it really looks nice.
I would have to say, boy, the Flamingo Arroyo Wash, the basket-weaving concept design that was done in honor of the Paiute tribes, I still think is a very nice piece of public art.
At CityCenter, the canoes are incredible. And at the new airport, I forget the local artist, but they did this piece with butterflies and the air turns on and they move, it’s just beautiful.
Would your proposal be a new tax?
It’s not a tax at all. What it is, it’s money that we already get that gets dumped into the general fund, just setting aside a portion of that. I originally drafted the ordinance to do what the Reno, Sparks and city of Las Vegas do, and take a percentage of their public works capital funds. But we don’t have any capital funds. So my staff came back to me and said, “Real nice, but there’s not money. So, how about looking at these because it just goes in general funds, it’s not allocated, you’re not taking anything away from anything.” So those two fees come into the county budget, so I’m just taking a small percentage of them.
So how much money are we talking about?
Five percent of both funds, the LVCVA and now I’ve gone blank on the second one. Each one will raise about $300,000 to $325,000. But that could grow as the economy changes, so I put a cap in there because I really don’t want to build a slush fund. I want something that will be used for art and culture in the community, and so I put a $1.25 million cap. [Las Vegas] generally raises between $500,000 and a million, and I figured the county is twice the size, so at least be competitive with that.
So why should we spend this money on art?
Well, because one of the things our community has told us repeatedly in surveys is that we need to build a sense of community, and through arts and culture you do that. More importantly, it’s an economic factor. You employ local artists, you involve students, but we have to beg and borrow and try to find grants. This won’t offset all of the costs, but to me it’s a part of building a community.
The city of Las Vegas has had a very progressive arts and culture program. We should be sharing ideas and concepts, and this is just one more format for that. My district definitely needs parks and rec, but $300,000 isn’t going to get us a bathroom.
Really, what I’m recommending as a dollar amount, I’m open to changing that, but I want to get the policy going that we actually believe that art and culture will benefit this community. It will be an economic booster and promote a broader economy. It’s a form of diversity. It’s a win-win in my mind, and it will complement what the downtown is doing with the Arts District, what Tony Hsieh and Zappos are doing in their community programming. We had a study done several years ago proving out that every dollar spent on the arts generates four to five dollars for the economy. The Smith Center is a perfect example — this is just bringing us into the 21st century for the county.
Some of the biggest commissions for public art tend to go to national artists, like the Oppenheim paintbrushes in the Arts District. Would there be some kind of quota in this that earmarks a certain amount of money for local artists?
I hadn’t envisioned a quota because it was going to be juried by a panel of community members and local artists. But I think if you want to look at the local side of it, I’m happy to look at some language to promote a policy like that. For some projects, you just aren’t going to get any other bids on it except from national groups. Other things you absolutely should be promoting the local side of it, so that’s a good, valid point. I always advance shop local, buy local, hire local. I would absolutely entertain the best way to do that.
How does art help the economy?
Artists are the first impacted, and some of them have second and third jobs right now. And so, for them, when we did the last ZAP project, it was a boost for all seven artists. Even though it’s only $5,000 to $6,000, it makes a huge impact because they can continue to be creative and be supported by their community.
We could be doing walking tours and driving tours. Folks are coming now because of the cultural scene and the arts scene. They might stay an extra day. They might go out to Winchester Cultural Center. They may drop by the county and look at the rotunda. And then it brings the youth in as well. So all of that is an economic engine that helps drive people giving up their dollars in a way that they never thought of because they didn’t think of Las Vegas as that kind of community.
Do you have the backing of your colleagues to pass this?
I have not lobbied any of my colleagues, so I don’t know where they’re at. I know that they are all very strong believers in arts and culture. This is finally putting us on a policy, and it gives us the flexibility to either raise or lower the amount.
Part of what I wanted to accomplish was, let’s get the policy in place for now, and if times get better, we can either ratchet it up or take it down. I would just hope that people who want to promote a more inclusive community would call on their elected officials to support it.