Funding For Art In Public Spaces Is On Pause In Connecticut

Jun 6, 2018

For the last 40 years or so, publicly-funded buildings in Connecticut were required by law to spend one percent of their total costs on art. 

The state says that's led to nearly 400 works of art, from murals to paintings to sculptures. But state budget problems have led Connecticut officials to say the state can no longer afford the price tag.

Jon Lender, an investigative reporter at The Hartford Courant, has been looking into the cost of public art. I asked him to describe the program.

Jon Lender, Hartford CourantThe law is that you have to set aside 1 percent of the bonded construction cost. For some reason, if it goes to the state Bond Commission, that's where the law applies. But 1 percent of the construction cost has to be set aside for artwork that will be on the site -- either in the building or on the ground.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: And this is what’s called the Art in Public Spaces Program. The cost of construction has skyrocketed in recent years. What kind of art has this 1 percent funded?

All kinds: sculpture, paintings, you name it. It’s more, what you call, modern art, maybe. A lot of it is abstract -- but not all.

You recently wrote about some art that folks could see when they take a look at the Innovation Partnership Building at UConn in Storrs — that’s the Sol LeWitt.

That’s right. It’s called Wall Drawing 867. He called all his things “wall drawings,” I guess. And he really conceptualized and designed them, and had other people follow his instructions to execute them.

This is called a drawing, but it's six panels of very bright colors. I'm looking at it now on my screen: yellow, purple, blue, orange, red, and green. And then there’s a wavy line through it that traverses horizontally. And above the line is flat, and below it is glossy. It’s quite a striking thing, especially at night.

Sol LeWitt's "Wall Drawing 867" installed at UConn in Storrs, Connecticut, pictured in October 2017.
Credit Bethany / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/vedder

The thing that brought it to my attention, somebody mentioned it, was the price. It’s $480,000 – almost a half a million bucks for this. So I think most people believe public buildings should not have bare cinderblock walls like a prison. But I thought it was enough money that it ought to be put out there for public discussion, and it has. It has generated some of that.

Nevertheless, the program has taken a hit from government, right?

Yup. I think you hit on it right in the beginning when you said 1 percent. You know, the percentage hasn’t changed -- the chunk that they take out of it. But 1 percent used to be taken off of much smaller construction costs -- you know, 1 percent of a million dollars… what is it? $10,000?

I don’t do math… but yes.

And the project cost was $132 million for this Innovation Partnership building, and the pure construction costs they told me was like $90 million.

Anyway, you apply 1 percent to that, it’s actually almost twice as much as what [UConn] spent. They spent $480,000. It came out to .52 percent.

What happened here is that the legislature was looking at this program -- everybody is in budget hell, right? And there’s no money to pay for anything.

In what they call the budget implementation bill this year, for the two-year budget, the legislature said 1 percent will no longer be allocated for a period of two years for this program. I don’t know if that means that it’s never going to come back. I kinda think it won’t come back in the very same form or proportion that it is now.