Art Under Fire

February 9th, 2010


Artists and art aficionados may be feeling the heat as lawmakers look for more creative ways to close state and county budget gaps.

At both the state and county levels, proposals introduced last year that would repeal requirements to put public money toward art in public buildings are being given another look.

Speaker Calvin Say introduced a measure in the House that would suspend, until June 30, 2011, the transfer of one percent of all capital improvement project appropriations to the Works of Art Special Fund. House Bill 1224 stalled in committee last year, but remains alive and could be brought back as part of Say’s package this year.**

In the City Council, Budget Chairman Nestor Garcia plans to take another look at a bill that was tabled last year that would repeal the requirement that one percent of funding for the construction of city buildings be used for the acquisition of works of art.

Bill 09-35 is to be heard in the Budget Committee tomorrow (Feb. 10).

Supporters of the arts turned out last year to oppose the measure.

Michael Pili Pang, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts, plans to be there again this year to testify against the measure.

“It’s more than just art in a building,” Pang says. “We have a whole philosophy and a belief that art will help stimulate the economy. Artists contribute to the economy — they contribute to the quality of life for the community — so we’re not too happy with this particular bill.”

Garcia says he brought the bill back for two reasons.

One, is to have the discussion with fellow council members on the notion of “fiscal prudence,” noting that even though the money for the art is from bonds used for construction projects, that is still borrowed money that must be paid back.

Secondly, Garcia says he is interested in pursuing a cooperative relationship with the arts community as the city moves forward on contsruction projects, particularly the 21 rail transit stations.

“What I want to see is artists working with the Department of Transportation Services, and the consultants, and see if they can incorprate art into the actual design of the stations,” Garcia says. “Instead of just buying a statue, why don’t we do something else with the money and still have artists employed and have artists engaged in the design of these 21 stations we’re hoping to build.”

If you’re interested in seeing how the discussion goes, the Budget Committee hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m., tomorrow in the council’s second floor hearing room at Honolulu Hale. The proceedings also are broadcast live on Olelo, channel 54.


**Update, 2/10/2010: Ronald Yamakawa, executive director of the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, responded that Say’s proposal would “devastate” the Art in Public Places Program and the Hawaii State Art Museum.

“Hundreds of thousands of residents and millions of visitors have used and enjoyed these programs over the years. The one-percent law, almost 50 years old, established Hawaii as a national leader among states and cities in beautifying the built environment, extending arts appreciation and education to all citizens and supporting artists and art and culture organizations. The present financial crisis will pass in time, but it may be impossible to undo the damage if this proposal becomes law.”

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