When Carl Smool's millennium burn was canceled last December -- a week before the city decided to more or less get out of the New Year's Eve business -- it was fairly certain that the burn would be rescheduled. Smool, a smart guy experienced in doing public art commissions, had a good contract that protected his ability to complete his work.
Happily, that burn is now scheduled to occur. The date is Sunday, March 19, 7:00 p.m., at the lawn of the Seattle Center International Fountain. In a January piece where I accused Seattle Center's other-culture worship of leading to the misunderstandings that got Smool's burn postponed, I wrote a little about Las Fallas, the Valencian spring-welcoming festival that inspired Smool. Appropriately, and somewhat ironically, Smool's version of that festival will now occur on the festival's date. His huge egg-shaped centerpiece will now most likely accompany that loin-stirring moment in Seattle's year when jackets are left at home for the first time and the shapes of strangers' bodies assert themselves on the street. Or maybe it'll just rain all week.
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The two-percent-for-arts legislation, scheduled for several votes in Seattle City Council over the last two months and postponed for as many, is now off the table again, awaiting Mayor Schell's comprehensive arts plan for Seattle. Advocates of the legislation aren't happy about it -- particularly Council Member Nick Licata and Allied Arts leadership -- but it was the pragmatic course to take, and, I believe, the right one.
Percent for Arts -- as I'm now sick of explaining and as regular readers of this column are no doubt sick of hearing -- is a mechanism that commits a certain percentage of city construction budgets to commissioning, purchasing, and installing artwork on the premises of the new construction. Sculptures for plazas, mosaics on walls, paintings for hallways, etc. Percent for Arts funding has advantages over other forms of funding, since it's a locked-in percentage; this is also its disadvantage, as the funding level will fluctuate depending on what's being built in a particular year. Its central drawback is how little it has to do with the general cultural health of a city. It buys us plenty of Hammering Men, and occasionally gives local artists bigger budgets than they've ever dreamed of, but it doesn't do anything for theater companies, music groups, authors, galleries, museums, or most individual artists.
Licata agreed to delay the vote because, as he remarked in council chambers, "I'm not stupid; I can count." The core yes-votes -- Licata, Peter Steinbrueck, Heidi Wills, and Judy Nicastro -- had failed to find a crucial fifth vote. Jim Compton, often thought to support the measure, wants to wait for the mayor's comprehensive plan, due in May.
Percent for Arts has been generally uncontroversial wherever the plan has been instituted (though not in Tacoma, where the city is currently trying to reinstitute a one-percent plan that was defeated by voters 20 years ago). Percent for Arts is easy to understand; it buys art in places where people will see it, and it doesn't tend to result in controversial projects. By the same token, it's not very important to Seattle's cultural sector. The poster child for the current challenges in local arts is the artist being evicted from his studio, not the local public artist who can't effectively complete his plaza sculpture without a doubled budget. That's not to say that I don't support increased percent-for-arts funding, but why not look at it as part of a larger arts plan for Seattle, when we can see exactly what the city is spending and where, and adjust proportions according to our needs or desires?
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