When, if ever, is public art a good use of taxpayers’ money?

In a hearing today, members of the St. Paul City Council are considering whether to dedicate funds to the creation and maintenance of public art. When, if ever, is public art a good use of taxpayers’ money?

I believe the tax money toward public art benefits the local tourism economy and public appearances. My vote: better than building professional stadiums. -Steven Larson, Duluth, MN

Art is a good use of taxpayers’ money when it creates a cultural environment that brings businesses and jobs to the area, especially young families and entrepreneurs. -Lauren, Minneapolis, MN

Art and culture is always an easy target in times of economic hardship but many would argue that it is these times when we need art and culture the most as a way to give ourselves perspective and to create dialog and a sense of community. To many public art can seem to be a luxury but for most it is a necessity as it is a component of the environment we live in. In the same way that one pays attention to aesthetic detail in their homes shouldn’t we also give our communities that same treatment? There also tends to be a notion that public art is competing for dollars that would otherwise go to social services and this is rarely the case. -Melinda Childs, Minneapolis, MN

Simple: ALWAYS! Art improves everyones quality of life! -anonymous text message

  • Kevin Watters


    This question hits at the root of “what is government for?” and “How big should government be?”

    I think government should not be in the business of spending YOUR discretionary income.

    Non-controversial art is entertainment. People support what they enjoy being entertained with by paying to see it. We do not have the ‘right’ to ‘free’, government sponsored entertainment.

    Controversial art is the promulgation of someone’s philosophy or religion. Inevitably, large numbers of citizens would find something disagreeable about that. Government should be neutral on philosophical and religious issues (except for patriotic messages that are directly about our countries founding beliefs). If people want to ‘spread their message’ they should do it at their own expense, not mine.

  • Aaron Perleberg

    This is a classic debate of cost vs benefit; which I am sure will produce some strong differing opinions. When the people vote on the matter, as they did in the 2008 constitutional amendment, it is the perfect example of when public art is a good use. The people had the opportunity to voice their opinion about how much money & what it would go towards. When the people have a chance to speak, I think it’s great use of public art. When appointed bureaucrats in appointed positions start dictating when & where – then I don’t think it is a good use of public dollars.

  • Emily Yliniemi

    I think it’s great to dedicate some of our tax dollars to public art. It creates a sense of community, a landmark, something beautiful to look at – a relief to the eye after exposure to the dreary and depressingly monotonous architectural and city planning styles of the times. It can cheer you up. I love the little statues in front of the courthouse in Minneapolis, and the Mary Tyler Moore statue. They remind me that people live here – thinking, feeling people, with a sense of aesthetics. I gladly support public art and hope to see more of it in the future.

  • Paul

    You can’t have public facilities looking barren. But, use of government funds to support ongoing art programs puts officals in the position of determining what is and what is not art.

  • Shawn

    It is a great use of money and we should allocate more. Freedom of expression in all it forms, including art, is the most patriotic activity an American can embark on. Scrap one F22 and you could fund art grants for many years to come.

  • http://www.kevinkern.com Kevin Kern

    From the pyramids to the Eiffel Tower to the Statue of Liberty, all great civilizations have had a form of public art. Through this art, they have left their mark in history. Why should we be any different?

  • Daniel

    Public Art is a cultural necessity of any great city. Art has the ability to put a face to a city, and draw people to it. Public Art is able to represent a cities citizens and give them a shared sense of community. Cities with public art and parks that are well maintained are cleaner and safer places to live.

  • Tinne Rosenmeier

    (fyi – my first name rhymes with ‘dinner’ if you’re from Brooklyn, NY)

    Public art is a the mark of a great city, a dedicated citizenry, and places an enduring mark on the spaces we inhabit. For example, murals celebrate community, and provide passersby a moment of reflectionm thought, and pleasure in the midst of their journeys. A recently painted mural at the busy intersection of Front and Dale and Como in Saint Paul changed that corner from another florescent and concrete location to a warm and inviting Place. Especially in our long, cold, dark, winters, intentional design such as this enriches us all.

    This sort of use of space and resources improves the lives of the community, helps us to communicate with one another, and binds us together.

  • Kelley Leaf

    Public art helps to create a more civil, empathetic public discourse. It can amuse, astound, and educate. People who declare that they have no use for art are often the same people who declare they have no time for the concerns and needs of other people. Public art makes our public spaces magnificent, and our society a better one.

  • http://www.williamhessian.com william hessian

    Being a biased artist, I believe that public funded public art can be a large factor in what determines a communities commitment to the creative community. Creative communities in general, create and sustain a much higher quality of life. Embracing diverse people, products and ideas.

    A community anything less than a creative community is a stagnant or dissolving community.

  • Chirs M

    To whom it may concern:

    I am writing regarding a question you asked of your listeners on July 10, 2009: “Have women achieved equality in American politics?” (I apologize I didn’t write this earlier, but I wanted to get my facts right). Many of the responses you read on the air seemed to conclude the answer to this question was a resounding no. However, not a single response you read (at least that I heard) spoke of numbers – of statistics, percentages, or even the number of women interested in politics today.

    Looking at the numbers, it might appear that women have not achieved the same success in politics, but the percentages show otherwise. This year we had the first ever woman run for President – she is now the Secretary of State. The Republican Party nominated their first Vice Presidential woman candidate. And a Latino woman will soon be nominated to the Supreme Court. The Speaker of the House is a woman. Considering that nine decades ago women weren’t even allowed to vote, that’s remarkable.

    In 2008, out of 33 states with Senate races six had women candidates (two women competed for North Carolina’s seat). Moreover, of the five women who ran for office against men, 80% won – three of whom beat male incumbents. Today, 17 women serve in the U.S. Senate – more than any other time in our nation’s short history. And in 2006, a record 12 women ran for Senate.

    The US House of Representatives currently has 74 female members, an increase of 11% from the previous congress. Of the 113 women (from 38 states) who ran for a seat in the US House against men, 66% won – and of those racing who were not incumbents, 50% of those women ran against and beat male incumbents. Women now make up 17% of the House, still far below the “20 percent territory considered minimal for exerting significant voting-bloc pressure”, says Alison Bowen, a WeNews correspondent (11/06/08).

    The global average percentage of women in parliaments is 18.4 percent (UN statistic); in the 111th Congress, it is 21 percent. According to an independent report, “Women’s Advancement in Political Science”, published by the American Political Science Association and funded by the NSF (March 4, 2005), women in political science are attaining Ph.Ds at a rate comparable to men (42%); but women are earning Ph.Ds at a much lower percentage than men in economics and history, 28% and 24% respectively.

    Are there more women than men in politics? No; but there are also seem to be many less woman interested in politics today. Women succeed on a higher percentage then men. And while 50% equality has not yet been accomplished, women are continually getting more involved, and are achieving success at a higher level. Perhaps the real question is, why aren’t women more interested in politics?

    Thank-you for your time.

    Chris Morgan, 21

    Northfield, MN

  • http://lukehillestad.com Luke Hillestad

    People will always seek out beauty, regardless of the use of public funds. The pertinent questions I have are, who is buying public art with our public funds? And how are these people chosen?

  • David Therkelsen

    Our public works – bridges, civic buildings, for example – should uplift the spirit, and should inspire aesthetic excellence in private-sector endeavors. Public projects should include art within their budgets.

    It is also appropriate for government to support the arts broadly, through grants to institutions dedicated to improving the quality of civic life – theaters, museums, etc.

    It is these institutions, as well as patrons of the arts, which should support individual artists, not the government. If government supports. or denies support, to individual artistry, it puts itself in the impossible position (using our tax dollars) of deciding what is good art, what is acceptable expression to the majority of citizens.

  • Dave Houg

    Public funding of art is good when they buy my stuff I couldn’t sell to anyone else. Public funding of stadiums is good when I own the team. These are easy questions folks. (said with tongue in cheek).

  • masiea

    is building stadiums a good taxpayer’s money