City Council passes bill to enhance community engagement in public art projects

By Bill Parry

New York City will have its first-ever comprehensive cultural plan now that Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the legislation Monday. The new law requires the city Department of Culture to address the availability and distribution of cultural activities in the five boroughs, the relationship between cultural activities and social and economic health and welfare, housing and studio needs of artists, and increasing arts education and activities in public schools.

“There’s no doubt New York City is a cultural center of the world, and the arts are essential to our economy, our schools, and our vibrancy as a city,” de Blasio said. “We are committed to ensuring all New Yorkers have access to cultural activities, and this comprehensive plan will help unify our initiatives aimed at lifting up all New Yorkers through arts and culture.”

The legislation also requires the DCLA to establish a Citizens’ Advisory Committee, which will advise the development and implementation of the plan and will review DCLA’s biannual report on the progress of the plan.

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) was a co-sponsor of the bill. He also pushed a separate bill through the Council that will give the public a greater voice on the placement of public art.

The public outcry over an 8-foot-tall pink statue the city plans to install in Long Island City was so vociferous, Van Bramer introduced a bill that would give the community more of a say on the city’s Percent for Art program. The bill, passed unanimously by the Council last week, would require the DCLA to provide advance notification of its intention to include works of art in a Percent for Art project on the agency’s website and hold public meetings to discuss future projects.

“Public art has the ability to inspire and make us see the world around us through a different lens,” said Van Bramer, who is the Council’s chairman of the Cultural Affairs Committee. “My bill aims to enhance the Percent for Art program by giving New Yorkers the ability to have a greater role in selecting public art projects that truly reflect the diversity of our city. The arts have shaped New York City. Passing this bill and mandating public hearings on Percent for Arts projects will solidify our city’s presence as the cultural mecca of the world by ensuring more communities have access to public art.”

The bronze sculpture of a sunbathing human form will be placed on Jackson Avenue near 43rd Avenue, at a total cost of $515,000. The hefty price tag is not what set off the controversy, Community Board 2 members complained loudly that they were “left out of the loop” during the planning process.

“For the last 30 years the Percent for Arts program has provided New Yorkers with hundreds of extraordinary works of art that enhance our libraries, plazas, schools and other public spaces throughout the city,” city Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl said. “When I was director of this program in the 1990s, I saw the incredible value that close collaboration with residents and stakeholders brings to the process, creating a strong sense of ownership over the artwork among residents and helping artists more fully engage with the communities we serve. We look forward to continuing our work to commission projects that bring great art to neighborhoods in all five boroughs.”

The Percent for Art law was passed in 1982 by the City Council. The law requires that 1 percent of the budget for eligible city-funded construction projects be spent on artwork for city facilities.

The program offers city agencies the opportunity to acquire or commission works of art specifically or commission works of art specifically for city-owned buildings throughout the five boroughs. The new bill would take effect immediately following its enactment into law.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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