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Oklahoma Art in Public Places: Bringing the Global to the Local by Tiffany Barber

Completed in 2008, the Heritage Bridge was designed by Steven Weitzman of Creative Form Liners, Inc.

Early Egyptian, Greek, and other civilizations used public art in the form of elaborate tombs and large-scale figurative sculpture to commemorate the life and death of prominent members of society. The Middle Ages and the Renaissance promoted public art in the form of monumental sculpture and architectural ornamentation as a way to assert the power of the church and the aristocracy. Following European models, public art in the United States began as monuments, memorials and building adornments that reinforced the power structure along with public space beautification projects. Public art has since evolved into a critical contemporary dialogue around the politics of site, identity, memory and place where terms like community and public are consistently contested and debated. In 2004, noted public art administrator Barbara Goldstein published what would soon become the go-to survival guide for managing a public art program. In Public Art by the Book, Goldstein offers practical information on public art planning, funding, and governance. Most importantly, Goldstein describes the history of public art in the United States and how ‘art in public places’ programs gained legitimacy and government funding. Comprehensive, federally sponsored art programs in the United States began with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), thereby legitimizing government-sponsored public art.


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Next, 1950s Philadelphia passed a pioneering percent-for-art-legislation that mandated “one percent of the city’s public construction funds be set aside for commissioning artwork for the aesthetic enhancement of buildings.” This legislation launched a movement and other cities and private developers across the nation soon established their own percent-forart ordinances. OAIPP: A Brief History Oklahoma’s Art in Public Places (OAIPP) program participates in a long history of public art programs across the United States and abroad. Shortly before Barbara Goldstein’s Public Art by the Book went to print, Oklahoma State Governor Brad Henry signed into law Senate Bill 1347, “State of Oklahoma: Art in Public Places Act.” The bill supported artwork in, on, or near new state buildings or those with major renovation projects and mandated that 1.5 percent of the design, construction, or renovation budgets of state-owned public buildings were earmarked for public art. These project budgets start at $250,000 and cannot exceed $500,000. OAIPP project funds are deducted from the construction budgets for capital projects, which means Oklahoma taxpayers do not directly fund the program. If every Oklahoma taxpayer did pay directly for the costs of OAIPP, the maximum amount per taxpayer per year would be less than a dollar. In March 2011, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to suspend the Oklahoma

Art in Public Places Act for three years. Oklahoma lawmakers, many of whom voted to pass the Oklahoma Art in Public Places Act in 2004, proposed the moratorium to help prevent an increasing state budget deficit. However, according to fiscal analysis, because OAIPP funding is sourced through bond issuances and not state appropriations, suspending the program will not directly impact the state’s General Revenue Fund or other sources of state finances. Two revolving funds were created by the 2004 Oklahoma Art in Public Places Act: the Commissioning of Art in Public Places Revolving Fund (80 percent of the project assessment) and the Art in Public Places Administrative and Maintenance Revolving Fund (20 percent of the assessment). The Administrative and Maintenance Fund is equally divided into two sub-accounts – one for maintenance and repair of project artworks and one for administrative and education purposes. OAIPP maintains and preserves each artwork commissioned under the program. OAIPP: Process City, county and state agencies and departments coordinate with OAIPP to administer project fund allocations, develop a Request For Qualifications (RFQ), and to integrate art into construction projects. In order to judiciously approach the complexities of commissioning artworks for public and civic

Art Focus Oklahoma, July/August 2011  

2011 July/August Art Focus Oklahoma is a bimonthly publication of the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition dedicated to stimulating insight into a...