|"untitled", George Sugarman, 1992|
Hard times and economic woes continue to decimate art funding at national as well as local levels. The Pinellas County Arts Council, oldest in the state (1976), officially ceased to function this year.
Scratching for ways to make further cuts, some county governments have decided to suspend requirements that new government buildings spend 1% on public art. Hillsborough County has ended this program and Broward County is considering similar cuts.
As sad as this turn of events seems, there is a segment of the population who will applaud these decisions. For this small but vocal group, the spending of tax dollars on what they deem frivolous and even vulgar public art is a travesty and waste of money. Art funding agencies have sometimes capitulated to the demands of a few self-appointed art critics.
Of course, art is where you find it, and it would be most difficult to reach consensus on the merits of a work of art. The Eiffel Tower in Paris was derided by citizens as a piece of junk when first erected. It is now the unofficial trademark of the City of Lights. Picasso's iconic woman sculpture in Chicago faced mountains of scorn, but has since become a photo op for tourists and locals alike.
What changed in these two instances? First, city governments refused to cave in to nattering nay-sayers. They firmly believed that public art belongs to everyone, even art that some believe is provacative. Secondly, with time and open minds, more and more citizens came to, if not love, at least tolerate these public works of art.
Public art has a future in our visual landscapes, but only if it is allowed to be what it is - creative, visionary and thought provoking. Much of what I see passing as public art is actually landscape and building decoration. The public deserves to experience the full range of artistic expression of which artists are capable.