Soapbox

Another View: Sacramento must rethink public art

An artist’s rendering shows the Jeff Koons sculpture in the public plaza of the new downtown Sacramento arena under construction. The City Council this week unanimously approved buying the artwork.
An artist’s rendering shows the Jeff Koons sculpture in the public plaza of the new downtown Sacramento arena under construction. The City Council this week unanimously approved buying the artwork. Sacramento Kings

The mayor, City Council and Kings ownership have purchased an $8 million hood ornament for the downtown arena. It was a corporate decision. The Sacramento sports cartel apparently believes the completion of the new downtown venue is worth a trophy, even though the Kings have yet to win an NBA championship.

What local outraged artists fail to understand is that this purchase was never about public art; it was about hype, hoopla and the necessary boosterism of a successful sports franchise. The investment has already been returned in publicity and promotional hype.

While The Bee editorial board and others supported the selection of the Jeff Koons sculpture (“Rise above local politics, approve Koons sculpture,” Editorials, March 10), it leads us into a deeper quandary about public art.

It has been local artists acting in their own economic self-interest who have been vocally opposed, not the general public, which has calmly sat out the debate. Public art is not a big priority for the average citizen.

Top arts administrators argue that great public art is uplifting and creates civic pride and tourism dollars. That sounds good, but there’s little supporting evidence. In a museum, patrons walk by each artwork in a quiet, contemplative environment with the opportunity to ponder and imagine. That luxury does not exist in the public domain. Commissioning “art” objects for public sites is an exercise of vanity, not common sense.

The selection process for public art is also seriously flawed. Committees have agendas, factions and personalities and seldom choose really great art. Many are appointed as political payback and are visually illiterate. The top-down funding mechanism reinforces the patron-peon relationship.

Plopping down random artwork has gone as far as it can. If Sacramento wishes to become world-renowned for its public art, the entire process of administration and funding must be overhauled. A new, bottom-up approach is needed, in which money is allocated to artist groups, nonprofits, libraries, neighborhood associations, community centers, schools and churches.

They then become the commissioning agency that selects public art. “Temporary” art festivals, art carnivals and parades become public art venues. Public competitions between rival artist groups could be held. There are many possibilities for creating a truly dynamic public art scene in Sacramento.

The artistic talent is here. Is there the political will to take that risk?

Thomas Powell is a Sacramento sculptor.

  Comments