Spending limit for public artwork approved

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Those who dislike the idea of taxpayer dollars funding public works of art might soon have a small reason to celebrate.

Current law allows for up to 1 percent of the cost of constructing or altering a state facility to be devoted to artwork. (Prisons are excepted.) Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) sponsors HF2212 that would cap the maximum allowable art expenditures at $100,000 per building.

The House Government Operations and Elections Committee approved the bill as amended and sent it to the House State Government Finance Committee. There is no Senate companion.

Supporters argue that art is better funded by the private sector. The bill originally proposed eliminating the statute that allows for art expenses in state buildings, but Franson successfully offered a delete-all amendment that proposes the $100,000 cap as a compromise.

“I believe that $100K is a reasonable limit and a reasonable contribution from the taxpayers to this program,” Franson said, adding, “We do have to be frugal with our taxpayer dollars.”

Opponents point out that the current program is optional, not mandatory. Sue Gens, executive director of the Minnesota State Arts Board, said the current statute has resulted in only $8.3 million of state spending on art over the last 25 years.

“It’s a small investment. If we added up the value of all of those pieces of art today, it would be well over the $8.3 million bottom line,” she said.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Mpls) successfully amended the bill to exclude art projects that are designed to address safety and security concerns. As an example, she said a sculpture garden might be built outside a state building to thwart potential terrorist attacks using vehicles rigged with explosives.

Another amendment successfully offered by Rep. Bev Scalze (DFL-Little Canada) specifically excludes the Capitol Building from the $100,000 cap. She said plans to renovate the Capitol might entail significant expenditures to restore the building’s many works of art.