Cleveland City Council is preparing to introduce legislation to guarantee the development of art in public places throughout the city. It's the latest effort in the region to use art as a catalyst for economic development. ideastream's Renita Jablonski reports.
Councilman Matt Zone walks around one of the newest art galleries in his ward, the Bruno Casiano Gallery. Casiano is showing of the gallery's latest installments.
Bruno Casiano: And this one's a little more interesting because it, it obviously shows more of like the diversity in Cleveland.
The show, Eclectic Energy, features work from more than a dozen local artists. Zone is inspired as he stops in front of a variety of pieces. There's sculpture, utility art, painting, silkscreen on metal.
Matt Zone: By incorporating art into, whether we're building a new fire station, police station, or we're rebuilding a street, it has a lasting beauty that would pay ten-fold down the road.
Public art ordinances exist in more than 200 states, counties, and cities across the United States. Places like Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Portland have had what's referred to as "Percent for Arts Legislation" for years. And now, Cleveland may be getting in on the action too.
Matt Zone: What it will do essentially is set aside a certain percent of the budget. We're toying with the number now, maybe two-percent, but some cities have it as low as a half-a-percent, some are as high as two-and-a-half-percent and we're looking at somewhere about two-percent that the money that is going to go into this capital project anyway, be set aside for public art project.
That means for any capital improvement project, from public utility buildings, to schools, and roads, some element of art would be included in the design.
Lillian Kuri: It's really important because it is the good stuff that people really visibly can see.
Lillian Kuri is executive director for Cleveland Public Art, a non-profit organization that works to link artists to civic projects. She helped draft the legislation.
Lillian Kuri: I think people think of public art as objects or sculptures but I think we are looking at it as signage, and fencing, and landscaping, and all the kind of functional elements you might not think of as public art, but they make wonderful places to be in.
Kuri says there's no hard evidence that public art leads to direct economic benefits but she says there's plenty of anecdotal evidence to support that notion. Susan Reams agrees. She's an art consultant for Toledo, the only city in the state that has a percent for arts program. She says Toledo's new minor league ballpark that opened last year is a good example.
Susan Reams: Our ballpark now has the most comprehensive public art collection of any minor league in the country. And people are coming from all over to the ballpark and then they see our beautiful works of art there and they stay an extra night or then they come back and they bring their friends.
Zone and Kuri hope an investment in public art will help attract people and business to Cleveland. As an artist, Bruno Casiano sees it as an opportunity for local painters, sculptors, and designers to get work.
Bruno Casiano: It's a simple equation, you know. We have so much art here and many of the artists, I think, tend to be a little frustrated with the market because there's a slow market. So if there would be something incorporated like that two-percent, it would mean that there would be a venue for artists to move their work.
Casiano says he sees a lot of potential for Cleveland to be more of a big name in the art world as long as support continues from local leaders and politicians.
Bruno Casiano: Cleveland's the place to be, really. You know, I think it's at that turning point but those decisions for what it could be are critical right now, you know, versus passing by and not paying much attention. I think one of the critical points of attracting and surpassing what it is now is working on the aesthetics, a lot of aesthetics.
Councilman Zone plans on introducing the Percent for Arts Ordinance this summer. The legislation would include the formation of a Public Arts Commission, and put aside money for maintenance and upkeep of artistic elements to public projects. The ordinance already has at least a dozen co-sponsors on council. If it's approved this fall, it'll make way for public art in city projects starting next year. Cities like Lakewood and Parma are also now considering their own percent for arts. There's no organized opposition to this ordinance but not everyone's as supportive when it comes to discussion about a proposed tax increase that would be used to support arts countywide. Community leaders and politicians are struggling with how to create a package to generate money for a proposed convention center, neighborhood-development projects and the arts to put on the November ballot. An even greater challenge is how to convince voters to pass an arts levy in the current economic climate. In Cleveland, Renita Jablonski, 90.3.