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Published: Sunday, 1/20/2008

Public art effort expands as Toledo program takes on change in 30th year

BY TAHREE LANE AND RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

A penny.

It seems almost ridiculous to imagine that a city could be graced with art, one penny at a time.

But Toledo's 30-year-old One Percent for Art program, which sets aside one cent for each buck the city spends on construction, is an exemplary lesson in economies of scale.

Since 1977, when Toledo became the first Ohio city to embrace a national trend of earmarking public dollars for city art, about $3.5 million in local tax dollars and

$1.2 million in private and other funding have enhanced the urban landscape with 47 sculptures and murals.

"It's a great thing that City Council did," says Susan Reams, who introduced the ordinance establishing the program in 1977, and has worked tirelessly for it ever since. "The arts are all about quality of life."

On March 4, Toledoans will be asked to renew the 0.75 percent temporary income tax, which, if passed, will increase the budget for public art for the first time in four years.

Like apple pie and motherhood, it's nigh on to impossible to find a detractor of the

program that has spread beauty to city parks and concrete parking structures, library grounds, ballparks, train and fire stations. Its fruits include the wavy white entrance to Ottawa Park on Bancroft Street, the curvilinear fountain at the foot of Harvard Boulevard, and five life-sized bronze statues of a young family in downtown's Promenade Park.

But much has changed since the birth of this pioneering initiative: sculpture materials and art are more expensive, the program's job description has expanded, and there's less money for it.

<i>Three Clouds Harvard Circle Fountain</i> adorns a traffic circle near Walbridge Park in South Toledo. The sculpture is one of dozens obtained with help from the One Percent for Art program. <i>Three Clouds Harvard Circle Fountain</i> adorns a traffic circle near Walbridge Park in South Toledo. The sculpture is one of dozens obtained with help from the One Percent for Art program.
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"A $25,000 sculpture would have gotten you something nice in 1977," says Marc Folk

, executive director of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, which oversees the program. "Now, a sculpture would cost a couple hundred thousand dollars."

One Percent for Art also rocks and rolls with the vagaries of the city budget.

There are other pressures too.

After you build a collection, you have to maintain it. Weather, animals, and people damage outdoor art, and repairs and replacement are expensive. Taking care of the dozens of pieces installed since the fiery bolt that is Major Ritual became the first permanent purchase in 1979, consumes a third of the annual budget. This year, three large sculptures will be repainted at a cost of $56,000.

Moreover, the city has bestowed on the One Percent for Art program the task of looking after nine of its pieces, including the 121-year-old bronze of Toledo Civil War hero Gen. James Steedman in Jamie Farr (Riverside) Park and Woman with the Birds by the late Toledoan Joe Ann Cousino in Toledo Botanical Garden.

The program also takes care of 71 small objects in a collection called "art in public buildings," many of which were purchased as contest awards for the Toledo Area Artists' Exhibition and other art shows.

And it does education and outreach, including partial support of the Young Artists at Work summer program that employs teens. An audio sculpture tour of the city, downloadable from the Internet to MP3 players, is expected to be available by mid

summer.

Seed money

Toledo's One Percent for Art budget is far smaller than average among 350 such programs across the country. According to a 2001 survey (the most recent to date) by the non profit advocate group Americans for the Arts, the average city's public art budget was $779,968.

In 2007, Toledo's One Percent budget was $202,200; its largest-ever budget was $278,365 in 2001, and its smallest was $150,272 in 2005. (The 2008 budget will be set in March.)

Consequently, the program doesn't buy much art anymore.

"It's used as a leveraging tool," says Adam Russell, the program's coordinator and sole employee.

Instead of purchasing sculptures and murals, the program has been reshaped to fit its bigger responsibilities and smaller budgets. It "seeds" the acquisition process, spending money to select a pool of potential artists for a project and launching a fund-raising campaign to get the piece built.

"There's much greater involvement of the private sector," adds Mr. Folk.

Consider the dramatic piece being made by a California artist for the under-construction downtown arena: a twisting 27-foot-tall keyboard lit from within that will be a paean to Toledo jazz pianist Art Tatum.

The One Percent for Art program spent $50,000 on the design competition (which included modest payments to each finalist for their developed projects and presentations to the selection committee). A private firm will run a campaign to raise $300,000 for the sculpture that will enliven the arena's Superior Street entrance.

A memorial tribute to the people who worked on the Veterans' Glass City Skyway (art is expected to be completed in 2010), budgeted at about $125,000, will be paid for with private funds and built, in part, with donated union labor.

After a 30-inch bronze statue of early golf and park advocate Sylvanus P. Jermain

was stolen last summer from the rock on which it had stood since 1928, Robert Reifert, a former Toledo businessman, donned waders and searched the golf-course pond for it in vain.

Mr. Reifert, an avid golfer who lives in Florida and returns to town periodically, pledged to organize golf outings to raise $11,000 to create a replica.

Susan Reams, a staunch believer that collaboration breeds synergy, worked to get four pieces of art at Fifth Third Field that were private-public ventures. She notes that the sons of the late White Family Co. car dealer Jim White, Sr., donated I've Got It!, an inside-the-stadium bronze of three boys poised to catch a fly ball.

The field's striking main-entry gates feature six gargantuan wooden baseball bats and bronze mitts, paid for by Lucas County. The city's One Percent program paid for the 22 baseball-themed manhole covers outside the field. And Emanuel Enriquez's

endearing Who's Up? of four bronze kids peeking through knotholes in the fence along North St. Clair Street was paid for by a mix of One Percent, county, and private funds.

"That's really how things get done," she says of partnerships. "You don't just ask people for money, you match money."

High visibility

Art in high-profile, urban locations softens hard edges and refreshes the soul. It can create a gathering place, a conversation piece. The notion prevailed in ancient Greece and Rome and even earlier, in the time of idol-carving and cave-painting.

Philadelphia led the country with its percent for art program in 1959 and other cities followed suit, particularly after the National Endowment for the Arts, created in 1965, promoted its Art in Public Places program.

Mrs. Reams, appointed in 1974 to the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, was asked by the commission's director to explore the possibility of a One Percent for Art program here. She ran with it, finding a model in Seattle.

Still successful, Seattle has nearly 450 permanent and 3,000 portable pieces and revenue of just over $3 million last year for its program. The biggest hurdle it has faced was a lawsuit filed in 2002 that unsuccessfully challenged whether ratepayer funds from the city-owned electric utility could be used for the art-funding program.

"The lawsuit questioned the use of utility dollars for public art. If it was upheld, it could have been viewed as a significant precedent," explained Lori Patrick, spokesman for the Mayor's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs in Seattle.

Nationwide, about 350 such programs spend $150 million a year, according to Americans for the Arts. In addition to culling one percent from a city or county's construction budget, some municipalities derive money from dedicated bond revenues or hotel taxes. It's an upward trend, particularly in growth areas such as Florida, notes Liesel Fenner of the Americans for the Arts.

"I think it's the rise in basic real estate development and the fact that art is seen as an enhancement in furthering the sense of identity of a place, or a new town, or a new civic square. It improves civic design exponentially."

Jack Becker, executive director of Forecast Public Artworks, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that publishes Public Art Review semi-annually, says the arts can be a tough sell in terms of quantifiable impact. But there are plenty of wonderful intangibles: "Businesses attract employees, communities building a sense of pride, for neighborhoods to establish an identity that's distinct from the next neighborhood, for cities to declare their uniqueness, for communities to garner media attention that they might not garner otherwise," Mr. Becker says.

Moreover, it's a boon for artists.

"More and more artists, I believe ... are gravitating to public art," says Mr. Becker. "It's probably because of the visibility it affords their work. ... With that is the opportunity for, and in some cases the mandate to, have a dialogue with the public."

Passion for the arts

In what has to be the envy of most cities, a couple of highly interactive pieces draw steady throngs to downtown Chicago's Millennium Park along Michigan Avenue.

Cloud Gate (2005), nicknamed The Bean, is a gleaming 33-foot-tall, 66-foot-long steel structure shaped like a drop of bouncing mercury. The nearby Crown Fountain

(2004) boasts a pair of 50-foot-tall, glass-block rectangles displaying slow-motion videos of Chicagoans' faces, and spurting streams of water from their pursed lips.



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