Dec. 15, 2014 By Christian Murray
Legislation is being introduced to ensure that the community has more of a say before bright pink sculptures–or any other pieces of art–are erected via the city’s Percent for Art program.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who chairs the Cultural Affairs Committee, is sponsoring legislation that will provide the public with a greater voice when it comes to the selection of artwork.
“We are going to take a good comprehensive look at the Percent for Art Law to strengthen and bolster the community engagement process,” Van Bramer said.
The catalyst for Van Bramer’s legislation stemmed from the Percent for Art’s selection of an 8 ½ foot tall pink sculpture that is likely to be placed at 43rd/Jackson Avenue. The public had virtually no input into the decision, which was left to a panel consisting of representatives from a variety of city agencies and three local arts experts.
The artwork the panel selected—called the ‘Sunbather’—has been universally panned ever since a rendering of it was posted online.
Van Bramer said that the selection process needs to be changed and that the public must be able to weigh in on it early in the process.
“I want to make sure that there are public meetings–including town hall meetings–as part of the process,” he said. At the moment, he added, “there are a select few on a private panel who make these decisions… and then they consult the community board when it is almost a done deal.”
Van Bramer, a strong advocate for the program and the arts community, said “the panel should come to the public early in the process and discuss what the plans are.” Then the panel should incorporate that feedback and proceed further.
The Percent for Art program became law in 1982 and requires a portion of funds that are raised for city construction projects to be set aside for public art. Van Bramer said the law needs to be revised to ensure that all city residents will be heard whenever a piece of artwork is going through the selection process.
Van Bramer said that he spoke to Dept. of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl yesterday about the legislation and asked him to come to Long Island City for a town hall meeting to discuss the ‘Sunbather’ as well as the Percent for Art program in general.
Finkelpearl is scheduled to speak in Long Island City in January—and Van Bramer said that it is not a done-deal that the ‘Sunbather’ will go up until the public is heard.
Furthermore, Van Bramer said that the administration cares about transparency and that the renderings should be online and available at request going forward.
Ten days ago, when this publication asked for the rendering, a spokesman for the program said: “They [the renderings] are not made publicly available until the proposal has been reviewed and is approved.”
State Sen. Mike Gianaris described the Percent for Arts selection process as “very bureaucratic” when he was interviewed Saturday.
“This decision was too much top down without consultation with local civic groups or the community board,” he said. “Yet we are the people who live here and have to see it every day when they drop this thing in.”
Several people have taken to comment boards and social media to voice their dislike of the sculpture—with one critic referring to it as the ‘Pink Panther’ and another saying that Stevie Wonder must have selected it.
Meanwhile, Hunt Rodriguez, who placed his own sculpture on Jackson Avenue last week in protest, said today that the whole project upsets him.
His biggest beef is that it comes at a cost of $515,000. “We are spending all that money on this nonsense, while the city falls apart.”