Building the city with art, a proposal

Jan 31, 2006 at 7:34 pm

Discussions of Louisville Metro’s high quality of life often include the parks system, historic architecture and the arts. The visual arts may soon get a boost, if proponents of establishing a Percent-for-Art Program are successful. Trish Salerno, executive director of Arts Kentucky, a statewide service and advocacy organization, led the call for action last week during a meeting at the Urban Design Studio on South Third Street.

Percent-for-art programs set aside a percentage, usually 1-3 percent, of a building or site construction’s budget for art that will be integrated into the site. Salerno estimated there are more than 300 city, county and state percent-for-art programs nationwide. Research by Suzanne Adams of the Artist Coalition, a group with an interest in establishing the program, shows that many cities, such as Austin, Kansas City and San Francisco, have arrangements that get 1-2 percent funding of construction budgets for art.

Why raise the issue now in Louisville? When Arts Kentucky held an Emerging Arts Leaders get-together last fall, the “number one burning issue was percent-for-art,” said Salerno. Two of those emerging arts organizers, Hallie Jones and Aron Conaway, were at the Percent-for-Art meeting and are helping Arts Kentucky call attention to the issue.

To gauge the art community’s response to this idea, Arts Kentucky sent out an on-line survey that included the question, “Do you think Louisville would benefit from a Percent-for-Art Program?”

The results were overwhelmingly positive — 68 of 70 respondents said “yes, absolutely” or “yes” to that question. Less certain were the responses to the question, “What existing Louisville government agency do you think might be appropriate to administer a Percent-for-Art program?” Of 66 respondents, 22 said Metro Planning and Design Services; 15 indicated the Mayor’s Committee on Public Art and Amenities; four voted for the Department of Neighborhoods; one for Metro General Services Administration; 21 marked “other” and three chose “none of the above.” (Austin’s program is administered by the Art in Public Place Panel, with the Cultural Art Commission responsible in Kansas City and the Arts Commission in San Francisco.)

Response was also mixed regarding whether the funded art projects should be for public businesses only or a combination of public and private spaces.

Sculptor Dave Caudill, who attended last week’s meeting, has a response to the standard complaint that such programs make building projects more expensive. “The campaign (should be) for hearts and minds. We need to convince (the government) that business will be more profitable.” Salerno also asserts that public art is “more successful if the community is involved.”

Because Metro Council members are the only ones who can sponsor a Percent-for-Art ordinance, the next step is to discuss strategies for bringing the issue to the council’s attention. Another meeting is planned in four to six weeks.

For more information, call Arts Kentucky at 561-0701 or visit For an overview of Percent-for-Art programs in other cities, visit

Disclosure: The writer is a member of the Mayor’s Committee on Public Art and Amenities. Contact her at [email protected]