Mandatory arts subsidy

Comprising a majority of the Las Vegas City Council’s recommending committee, Councilmen Stavros Anthony and Bob Coffin on Tuesday voted against a proposal from Councilman Bob Beers to get rid of a mandate that 1 percent of the city’s capital improvement budget be spent on public art.

Mr. Beers instead favors making that allocation optional. The proposal goes to the full City Council on May 15.

According to a spreadsheet presented by city Chief Financial Officer Mark Vincent, the program generated about $1.4 million from 2005 to present. The money has supported such projects as the large paintbrushes on Charleston Boulevard in the Arts District, decor to enhance a pedestrian bridge over Las Vegas Boulevard and public art on Lewis Avenue.

For other examples of the kind of graceful, innovative, cutting-edge public art that can result when government bureaucrats decide which “artists” to subsidize, visit Moscow.

Mr. Beers called the automatic spending an issue of morality, saying that in tough times the current setup allows the city “to lay people off and buy art without approval from City Council.”

“I think it is a slippery slope to put this in an optional category,” testified art consultant Michele Quinn. “Once you put it in an optional category, I think we start giving people an out.”

Ms. Quinn is correct. Whenever the government falls down on the job and fails to mandate something, it is “giving people an out.” This could also be described as “Giving private citizens the freedom to decide how much of their money they want spent on art, and even what kind.”

We couldn’t have that.

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