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The Deal of the Art

Beauty, as has been duly noted throughout history, is in the eye of the beholder. But those eyes would have nothing to behold without the “buy” of the benefactor. Or the patron, if you will. Or simply the customer.

Art, the source of beauty in all its forms, is free expression at its finest, but it is not free.

Somebody has to pay the pipers, painters, sculptors, composers, players, and performers. But who? And how? And how much?

The City of Lakeland has a solid history of buying art and benefitting its creators and beautifying the community. And now it is working to ramp up those efforts and refine the processes that will ensure that the citizens have access to such art - and the chance to behold it - in as many public places as possible.

In fact, some are seeking to codify it, by amending and enforcing an ordinance to require it. In its simplest form, it would set aside one percent of the total cost of municipal building projects to buy and maintain original art to complement the finished product.

This is unnecessary.

And may produce the unintended consequence of reducing the city’s investment in public art. In 2006, the original ordinance was enacted and then rendered impotent by the 2008 economic meltdown, leaving its good intentions unenforced.

The current push to revive (and refine) the regulation is born of the sense that the city needs to do more to invest in art for public spaces and embrace its creative economy more deliberately. A city the size of Lakeland ought to be well decorated with the fruit of its creative community.

This is necessary.

But it doesn’t need to be managed by the force of law. And the proof is in the actual history of the last 14 years, during which the the city spent about $112 million on major municipal projects, of which the ordinance would have required $1.12 million for art. The city actually spent more than $1.40 million, not only meeting the good intentions of the ordinance, but exceeding them.

We must take care to ensure that the spirit of the regulation doesn’t succumb to the letter of the law, allowing the City to meet its “obligation” by reducing its investment. One proposed amendment now simply provides for a standard annual funding of $100,000 regardless of the actual total spending on municipal projects. Meant to account for shortfalls in lean years, it will also cap the funding during the booms.

This is unhelpful.

We applaud every initiative that adds to the City’s attachment to its creative community and bolsters its investment in the objects of its industry. We prefer a voluntary approach and reject the notion that an ordinance will accomplish this. There are many better options for success and they deserve as much attention as this one.

But first, and this effort can take credit for it, we must all applaud the City for finding the appropriate place in its priorities for the kind of beauty that makes Lakeland the place we all want to live.


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