Funding is sought for public art

The Ashland City Council could tap a mix of funding sources for public art.

Earlier this week, a City Council majority voted to indicate its support for earmarking a portion of the city's hotel tax plus a fraction of the amount of money spent on commercial development and city construction projects to fund public art.

The city will schedule a public hearing to gather residents' reactions to the idea of using the mix of funding sources. The plan was developed by the Ashland Public Arts Commission.

In the past several years, a handful of public arts projects have moved forward, but they were funded mainly though private donations, such as memorial bequests.

Given Ashland's other cultural amenities, Councilor Alice Hardesty said the town has a relative lack of public art.

"This cultural Mecca doesn't have much public art," she said.

Under the Public Arts Commission's proposal, one tenth of — percent of the value of commercial development would go for public art. Developers could spend that fraction of their construction budgets on public art for their own projects, or pay a fee of that amount into a public art fund.

The proposal does not apply to housing construction.

In 2007, the commercial development charge would have generated $6,648. During the construction boom of 2003, the charge would have generated $35,818, according to figures developed by city staff and arts commissioners.

The second funding source would be one-half of — percent of city construction projects. Future projects that could be affected include Ashland Police Department building improvements and an improvement or replacement of Ashland Fire Rescue's Station No. 2 on Ashland Street. Street and sidewalk construction would be exempt.

City staff have not yet developed projections of the budget impact on future city construction projects, City Administrator Martha Bennett said.

The third funding source could come from a proposed increase of Ashland's hotel tax. The tax, paid by visitors, is 7 percent but could be increased to 9 percent.

The Ashland City Council has set a public hearing for June — about that possible tax increase.

The Public Arts Commission has proposed setting aside about $8,000 per year for art if the city raises the hotel tax.

Raising the hotel tax by 2 percent would bring in about $436,000 extra per year, according to city figures.

Councilors Hardesty, Russ Silbiger, Eric Navickas and Kate Jackson voted to indicate their support for the funding mix proposal and to set a public hearing about the issue.

Councilors David Chapman and Cate Hartzell voted against the motion.

Hartzell, who has long voiced reservations about using public money for public art, said she couldn't support the funding mix because of its potential financial impact on city construction projects and residents' pocketbooks. She said she especially couldn't support the plan without an estimate of the financial impact on city projects.

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