Housing in the San Francisco Bay Area continues to be one of the most expensive enterprises in America. Growing up in the Midwest, I thought driving 30 minutes was an ordeal and rent at $500 a month to be outrageous. So with congestion, higher taxes, and endurance testing commutes- diversity, opportunities, access to museums, and public art replenishes the spirit while sharpening the need for collective critical thinking. Then why would some developers want to get rid of a local city’s new Public Art Ordinance? Money, of course!
The BIA Bay Area (Building Industry Association of the Bay Area) decided to sue the city of Oakland’s Percent for Art Ordinance. They claim that the law violates their First and Fifth amendments. According to Benjamin Sutton of HYPERALLERGIC: “The group, which represents some 300 builders, contractors, suppliers, and other players in the Bay Area housing industry, claims that the ordinance violates the Fifth Amendment’s protection against ‘uncompensated takings’ by requiring developers to pay a fee or commit to providing public art in order to obtain building permits.”
Not a legal expert, I can imagine the arguments against paying for Public Art endeavors. Developers most likely want a higher profit margin, a quicker turnaround, less community involvement and limited social responsibility. In addition, Public Art raises building costs a minimal amount. If a small portion of their budget results in an artwork of their disliking, it would be the end of the world!
There are many things that I don’t want to pay for: war, institutional racism, and Wall Street bailouts to name a few. However, this doesn’t stop me from paying taxes. Being a part of society includes being a responsible citizen. Democracy wasn’t built on unanimous agreement. Positive engagement softens distrust and lays the foundation for future projects.
Public Art injects positive discourse, a respite, and life into urban environments. It becomes a feature that makes new properties desirable and daily existence bearable. Art is a gesture and acknowledgement to a community that a developer can be a serious and sincere partner.
Art teaches not to settle for less and to be better. It questions and provides neighborhood pride while connecting humanity. Without it, buildings become just another sterile cube in which humans enter and exit from one task to another. For a small .5 to 1% investment of a construction budget, the returns are priceless.
We can do this and must.