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

That’s today’s question on MPRnewsQ, in light of the fact that the St. Paul City Council is considering whether to dedicate funds to the creation and maintenance of public art.

The debate around public art funding has been simmering of late, with Governor Pawlenty criticizing Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak for spending half a million dollars on public art drinking fountains. Rybak’s office responded the amount of money is a wise investment given the revenue the arts generate for the city.

Time and time again public art has been shown to play a key role in the quality of life of a community.

So what’s the right answer? Today’s question has already provoked some interesting responses.

Melinda Childs writes:

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.

Kevin Watters counters:

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.

Aaron Perleberg falls inbetween the two camps:

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.

Where do you fall? When would you want your taxpayer dollars spent on public art?