Fair Process Needed for Public Art Fund

Did you know that the City of Alameda has a Public Art Fund with over $200,000 to be disbursed?

Since a public art ordinance was adopted in 2003, the City has taken a measured, deliberate approach to disbursing public art funds. Sadly, the disbursement process is still not resolved. Over the past decade, numerous community meetings were held, staff reports prepared, a Public Arts Commission (PAC) was seated, and a study was commissioned to assess the public art program and recommend development of arts and culture in Alameda. 

Many Alameda artists and arts organizations have sought a process by which artists may apply for funds to create public art. Unfortunately, the proposed changes to the ordinance now before City Council do not establish the transparent, equitable process by which anyone may apply for funds. In the thirteen years since the ordinance was passed, not one penny has been disbursed to a local artist or arts entity for a public art project. Nor is there a process by which the City will accept applications from local artists to create public art for Alameda.

City Council is now considering sweeping amendments to the public arts ordinance, which have been reviewed by the PAC. In addition, City staff has recommended that Council “appropriate” $100,000 of the total $224,698 now in the public arts fund to be used exclusively for public art in Jean Sweeney Open Space Park (JSOSP). 

The question is not whether to install public art in JSOSP. The question is whether the public art fund will be administered in a way that is fair and consistent for all applicants. The City Council approved the Master Plan for JSOSP on July 5, and the

Plan contains suggested locations for public art. The fair next step should be for any specific plans for public art to be proposed in an application to the Public Arts Commission. To designate almost half of the current public arts fund be set aside for any organization bypasses the open process for distributing funds that city staff is supposed to be administering.

Before any funds are “appropriated” from the public arts fund, a fully transparent, equitable public process must be put in place, so the funds can be disbursed in a way that is fair for everyone. 

Other changes to the ordinance could be improved upon. Instead of increasing the cap on developments subject to the fund from $150,000 to $500,000, Alameda should eliminate the developer cap entirely, consistent with arts ordinances in neighboring cities. Alameda has some of the most desirable real estate left in the Bay Area, and should not sell itself short.

A fair, transparent application process and an actively engaged PAC should facilitate the disbursement of public arts funds as intended under the ordinance: to include public art in both private and municipal development in Alameda. A hearing on this important matter will take place promptly at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18, as the only item on the continued agenda.

Tina Blaine is an Alameda resident and artist. She can be reached at tblaine@gmail.com