A city arts task force on Wednesday debated changing how Scottsdale’s public art is funded, a plan that may expose the program to budget cuts or political agendas.
The six-member panel was formed in response to a city audit that reported spotty records in the public art program. The audit found that public art employees were charging the taxpayers for cell phone use, meals and travel without explaining how the charges contributed to art acquisition.
City Council members Wayne Ecton, Betty Drake and Ron McCullagh represent the city. Richard Hayslip, Gail Bradley and Louise Roman represent the Cultural Council, the organization that contracts with the city to govern the arts programs, including public art.
The city audit brought to light several issues that are not addressed in the public art ordinance created in 1985 that ensured art as a priority for the city, Ecton said.
In the next several weeks, the task force will draft a new ordinance that addresses the public art program’s modern needs and paves a new road of accountability in managing funds, Ecton said.
For the past 20 years, public art has been financed with 1 percent of the city capital improvement plan fund, which is used for new construction and equipment in the city. That policy, put in place by a city ordinance, ensured that art would be incorporated in all city projects — even those that don’t typically include art, such as sewer lines.
At Wednesday’s meeting, city budget director Art Rullo presented an idea to fund public art through the city’s General Fund, money mainly collected through taxes.
One benefit of that plan would be increased flexibility on behalf of public art, Ecton said.
Instead of trying to find a way to incorporate art into, for example, a new water plant, the public art program could use the money in a piece of art that would have a greater impact on the entire city. On the other hand, the plan could cause the City Council to start to doubt public art as a priority, he said.
Cultural Council CEO Frank Jacobson expressed fears that public art would become subject to political agendas if left under the General Fund. That plan would defeat the intent of those who created the public art ordinance, he said.
“Scottsdale tried to remove politics from it as much as it can,” Jacobson said.
Drake said public art also might be the target of budget cuts if the economy went sour, adding that arts are especially important during times of crisis.
The task force is far from making concrete decisions about public art, but the members agreed the new ordinance needs to ensure the program remains a high priority.