Fayette County

‘Art equals jobs.’ Lexington public art projects will soon get taxpayer dollars.

Beginning in July 2019, 1 percent of the city’s borrowing will be set aside for large public art projects. The city of Lexington has never had a dedicated funding source for public art.
Beginning in July 2019, 1 percent of the city’s borrowing will be set aside for large public art projects. The city of Lexington has never had a dedicated funding source for public art. aslitz@herald-leader.com

The city of Lexington will soon have a dedicated funding source for large public art projects, joining more than 350 U.S. cities that have set aside taxpayer dollars to fund art.

The Lexington Fayette Urban County Council voted 8-5 Thursday to approve an ordinance that would set aside 1 percent of the amount the city borrows or bonds each year for a public art fund that can be used for larger public art projects. The fund could generate as much as $300,000 a year, depending on how much the city borrows each year.

The program will not start until the next fiscal year, or after July 1, 2019. Also Thursday, the council approved a separate ordinance to reorganize a public arts commission. That commission, which will be appointed by the mayor, will develop an arts master plan, which will help decide what types of projects to fund. The plan will likely take more than a year to develop, city officials have said.

“Art equals jobs,” said Mayor Jim Gray. “For several decades, the city has supported the arts through its annual budgets. Because of the city’s investment and support from businesses and generous citizens, we have a lively, thriving arts community that creates jobs, enriches our quality of life, and attracts businesses to Lexington.”

Councilman Bill Farmer Jr. has pushed for a dedicated funding source for public art for more than a decade. Farmer championed the idea after a trip to Portland, Oregon, which has a robust public art program.

Artist Kiersten Nash explains how Livestream, a musical public arts project works at the renovated playground at Jacobson Park.

Farmer said passage of the ordinance “will over time treat our city as a canvas for public art of all types. I am proud of Jim Gray and the council for this bold addition to the great work this city does every day.”

The fund will be overseen by the commission. One percent of projects over $10 million will be set aside for public art projects connected to that project.

Over the past decade, the city has given money to various public art projects on an ad hoc basis. For example, the council on Thursday approved $100,000 for a statue honoring women to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

Lexington’s funding plan is similar to those used by dozens of other cities.

Chicago passed a Percent for Art ordinance in 1978, which requires setting aside 1.3 percent of the cost of constructing and renovation municipal buildings for public artwork.

The resulting public art helps drive tourism. Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millennium Park, commonly referred to as the “Bean,” has been a big draw.

Council members who voted against the ordinance have previously said they either oppose borrowing money for public art or that funding for public art should not trump other basic needs, such as sidewalks or social services. For example, this year the city had to tap unspent funds in various accounts to pay for its homeless services program.

Those who voted for the 1 percent ordinance include: Farmer, Vice Mayor Steve Kay, Jake Gibbs, Joseph Smith, James Brown, Kathy Plomin, Jennifer Mossotti and Peggy Henson. Those who voted against include: Amanda Bledsoe, Kevin Stinnett, Fred Brown, Angela Evans and Preston Worley. Council members Susan Lamb and Richard Moloney were absent.