When things get slow in the controversy department, just take some public money and propose spending it on art. Voila! You’ll have controversy coming out your ears.
Some oppose the very idea of public art; why should taxpayers be forced to subsidize frills? Others question how the money is spent; no one who was here at the time has forgotten the brouhaha over decorative pots along the Squaw Peak Parkway, as it was then known.
In the strictest libertarian view, government has no business spending money on art. But from ancient times, societies have made the investment because art, or a lack of it, can say profound things about a society’s soul. A modest amount to enhance a community’s ambience can be a good investment.
Yet that is not to say the arts community is entitled to some sort of government subsidy, as some in Gilbert seem to believe. And it is not to say a government shouldn’t be able to change priorities to accommodate fiscal realities, as the Gilbert Town Council did last month when it decided not to spend $40,000 for two abstract glass panels by a San Francisco artist for the community development building.
The vote may be reconsidered at the urging of the Gilbert Arts Advisory Board, some of whose members accused the Town Council of going back on its word. Perhaps. But Gilbert, like every other East Valley city, faces major budget woes. Just as cash-strapped families might not spend a lot on home decor, a taxing entity is obliged to show the same judiciousness.
Still, Gilbert is not a poor city. If the arts community really, really wants those glass sculptures, perhaps it can beat the drums, raise some money on its own, and foot at least part of the bill.
That sort of public-private partnership is paying off handsomely in Mesa, where an awesome new arts center is rising at Center and Main streets. The center is mostly tax-financed, thanks to a vote by Mesa’s electorate. But not enough money will come from the tax to pay for all the candy the arts community wants.
So the arts community launched a $3.7 million fund-raising drive, which went spectacularly over the top this week with a $1 million gift from the Tom and Janet Ikeda family, to whom kudos and thanks are due.
If Mesa can do that, private citizens in Gilbert should be able to kick in something for their town’s public arts program.