$5M in Taxpayer Money Used for Public Art

$5M in Taxpayer Money Used for Public Art

You paid for it: $5 million worth of public art around the City of Memphis, including murals, sculptures and statues. When it comes to public art projects, some will say it's a good use of tax dollars, but others think it's a waste. We looked at what you're still paying for.
MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - You paid for it: $5 million worth of public art around the City of Memphis, including murals, sculptures and statues. When it comes to public art projects, some will say it's a good use of tax dollars, but others think it's a waste. We looked at what you're still paying for.

From a $50,000 mural on Broad Street to a $75,000 sculpture on Harbor Town, you also paid $75,000 for a sculpture at the city skate park that's really being used as a skate ramp.

Skaters admit city officials often tell them to stay off the sculpture, but they don't listen.

"That's a bit of a pricey ramp, so to speak," said park skater Patrick Herrington. "I don't think many skaters skate on a $75,000 ramp."

In just over a decade, the city has paid the Urban Art Commission almost 5 and a half million dollars for public art projects.

As drivers zip past one mural on James Road, they probably don't know it cost taxpayers $100,000.

Drivers sitting in line at the Appling Vehicle Inspection Station may not realize the city spent $75,000 for its sculpture.

Some projects you paid for aren't finished. In 2011, you paid for murals to be built at a half dozen community centers, yet the walls are still blank.

You also paid $50,000 for concrete statues at a southwest Memphis park, which surprised park-goers.

Christina Lanzl is the Director of the Urban Art Commission, the non-profit group hired by the city to install the artwork. While critics may say it's a waste of taxpayer money, Lanzl says public art enhances the community.

"I think it's very short sighted to say let's just do away with the little we are trying to hold onto," she said.

One thing Lanzl doesn't want to talk about is the art at the $43 million Beale Street Landing project.

"I don't want to get in the middle of the controversy, it's not my place," Lanzl stated. "We're just facilitating the public art for the project and that's our role."

Not only has the project run millions over budget, another $280,000 of your tax money is being spent for art at the Landing.

We asked the city's Chief Administrative Officer, George Little, if he thought it's a good use of taxpayer money. He replied, "I think that's a reasonable question to raise. With the project as it started out it probably made sense to include that element; given the way the costs have run - that's been a much-chronicled saga - maybe one could question that last $200,000 for art."

For $280,000 artists have been hired to decorate the pavement and build a sculpture.

"It's real money; I don't deny it can go for other things," Little added.

Memphis City Council members are split on the idea of spending money on public art during these tight financial times.


"I love public art; I encourage more public art in our public spaces," said Councilman Lee Harris. "That's one of the things that makes a city vibrant and appealing and attractive."

Councilwoman Janis Fullilove countered, "Do we really need that much art? I mean, some perhaps, but I think it needs to be looked at again and revisited."

You've probably heard the expression beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and when it comes to art paid for with taxpayer dollars, only you can decide if it is money well spent.

Right now, the amount of money the city spends on art each year is tied to the budget. As the budget goes up or down, so does the percentage spent on public art projects.

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