The Cost of Public Art Projects

I am an artist. I am a songwriter. I think art is beautiful and it enriches our society and culture. I have even gotten paid for some of the music I have created. There are people who value art enough to pay for it, and this is a wonderful thing. But I would never dare to force someone to buy my music. That is, for many artists, incomprehensible. But our government does it at every level.

From Federal, to state, to local, they all have funds for public art projects. Memphis puts aside 1% of the annual capital improvement funds. The logical fallacy here is to think that the city pays for these art projects. Where does the city get its money? From the taxes of its citizens. Therefore all citizens of Memphis pay for all items of the city budget. This includes the poorest people among us (and lord knows, we have poor people in this city). Can we justify taking money from impoverished people to pay for art?

The city of Memphis has allocated $300,000 to the design and construction of an artistic tower called “Giro” at the entrance of the airport. It may look amazing. It may put us in the news. It may be an incredible sight to see. But I wonder, how many citizens will value this piece of art? How many citizens have a reason to go to the airport? How many can afford to fly on airplanes? How many can even afford to go outside their own neighborhoods? Poverty has held us back for decades. It is not only a bad use of funds to build this, it is inherently immoral to force people into poverty to fund this project.

Contrast this with the bicycle arch at Overton Park. It was privately funded by the First Tennessee Foundation. Meaning that there were a private organization and individuals who had money, and who cared enough about art and this city that they wanted to build it. They value art so much that they were willing to pay for it. We did not have to tax our citizens to make this happen. We did not have to keep people in poverty to fund the bicycle arch. It has become an iconic piece of Memphis. It improves the city and makes Overton Park more attractive--at no cost to the taxpayers.

In conclusion, I cannot in good conscience support taxing those in poverty for the benefit of another group. I cannot advocate for forcing people to pay for art. Art should be created to beautify the world and should be paid for by those who value it and love it. I am an advocate for art. There is talent in this city, and we should be proud of that and support it.