City proposal would fund artwork in public spaces

February 27, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,sun reporter

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon's administration has proposed setting aside 1 percent of the cost of all publicly financed construction projects for public art -- reviving a concept first crafted in Baltimore by then-City Councilman William Donald Schaefer but that is now rarely used.

The legislation, introduced in the City Council yesterday, would create a new, nine-member Public Art Commission to consider what type of art would be appropriate for individual projects and to commission artists to do the work. The requirement would apply only to projects that are publicly bid.

"Art is the fabric of our community. Creativity is what makes Baltimore one of the strongest cities in the country," Dixon said. "Having art within buildings and around the city is very significant."

City code advocates putting up to 1 percent of the cost of public works projects -- such as libraries and parking garages -- into a fund that can be used for public art, but several advocates said the allocation rarely occurs. The new proposal would more directly require that at least 1 percent is put aside for new projects or for the maintenance of existing art.

The commission would replace the five-member Civic Design Commission, which was charged with the same task.

"The practice that's in place in our current ordinance is very weak," said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. "It just never got the push that it needed."

Gilmore and others could not say specifically how many projects would be eligible for the program in a given year or how much it would cost. Schaefer modeled Baltimore's original 1-percent program after similar legislation in Philadelphia.

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