House Bill 1665 suspends for three years the Art in Public Places Act of 2004, which requires 1.5 percent of any construction project costing more than $250,000 go toward funding art pieces in the project. The maximum cost for the artwork is capped at $500,000.
HB 1665’s author, Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle, said that as the state is going through another lean fiscal year, the prudent thing to do is cut nonessential government functions to help fund essential functions with tight budgets, such as education, infrastructure and the Department of Public Safety.
“It’s absolutely nothing against art,” Osborn said. “It’s when you come down to these budget years, you have to look at priorities.”
Osborn said she expects the measure to easily pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Mary Fallin.
A separate piece of legislation, Senate Bill 14, authored by Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, would entirely repeal the 2004 act. That measure is still alive in the Senate.
Brecheen did not respond to a request for comment, but in a Jan. 23 opinion piece in the Durant Daily Democrat, he stated that because of the state’s budget shortfall, the program should be cut and the money put toward building infrastructure.
Oklahoma Art in Public Places program director Debby Williams said a temporary suspension could be the death knell for the entire program.
above Public art, such as that outside the Office of State Finance, could be in jeopardy.
I don’t think we can ask the taxpayer to shell out more money to fund art.
—Rep. Leslie Osborn
The Art in Public Places Act is responsible for 41 projects across 14 counties in the state, and those projects range from sculptures at public buildings, to art on bridges and highway sound walls, Williams said.
“I’m particularly proud of that fact — that we’ve created art in a lot of counties, a lot of towns, where there might not be any public art any other way,” she said.
The program’s purpose is to increase the quality of life for residents, bolster tourism and encourage economic development, Williams said. Each piece of art is site-specific and comes with its own educational lesson plan that can be incorporated into classrooms, she said.
While not all art pieces will please everybody, and although the state is going through fiscal difficulties, Williams said, the program should not be canceled. Williams cited artwork by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression as an example of how public art can enrich communities and leave a legacy, despite struggling through hard times.
“Art is subjective. You’re not going to put out pieces of art that everybody likes every single time,” she said. “Art is kind of like people: It’s in all different sizes, shapes and colors, and if you’re not going to be open to meet that person or piece of art, you’re not going to get it.”
While the threat to the program’s existence is obvious in SB 14, HB 1665 would essentially temporarily de-fund the program, since part of the 1.5 percent allocation funds the program and administration, Williams said.
However, Osborn said she preferred to have the three-year moratorium because she did not want to completely do away with the project. At the end of the three years, a study will likely be done on the program, she said.
“The reason we did a threeyear suspension is because we didn’t want to totally destroy the program, but at a time when we have a $500 million shortfall in a balanced-budget state, you have to make hard decisions,” Osborn said. “You’ve got to find places to save money. It’s costing the state millions a year.
“We have a lot of beautiful art in the state and we need to maintain it, but at this point, I don’t think we can ask the Oklahoma taxpayer to shell out more money to fund art when we’re having cuts in these other areas.”
The Art in Public Places Act costs the taxpayer about 55 cents per person, per year, Williams said.
“If this program weren’t here, I feel that our artists here and art in Oklahoma would suffer, and that has enormous ramifications,” she said. “It shows our pride in our history and creates a legacy for our future.”