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The Art in State Building Program must go

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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With talks of tuition hikes at the University of Iowa and unprecedented budget cuts for the University of Northern Iowa, it's clear that the state Board of Regents' universities must be wise when spending their money. Dedicating money to be spent on visual art in every newly constructed state facility certainly doesn't seem to fall under the category of "wise spending."

However, because of the Art in State Buildings Program, led by the Iowa Arts Council, neither the UI, University of Northern Iowa, nor other state organizations have a choice of whether to allocate money to art in their newly constructed buildings, despite the financially unstable times.

The state of Iowa should therefore no longer enforce the arts program, because many state institutions, such as the UI, are forced to spend money they very well need to save.

The arts program was enacted by the Iowa Legislature to provide funding for fine-arts projects in building construction projects, according to the Operations Manual for dealing with art in newly constructed buildings at UI. The program states that 0.5 percent of a state construction project's total cost, if in excess of $1 million, must be used in the acquisition, preparation, and installation of fine-arts elements.

One of the most expensive buildings constructed by the UI in recent years was the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center, which first opened its doors in August 2010. The facility cost roughly $70 million, meaning the university was required to spend $350,000 on art that was to be placed in the Rec Center — most notably a bronze statute of former Hawkeye swimmer Jack Seig, aptly named Swimmer.

No offense to Seig, but I'm sure $350,000 could be put to better use.

The university could add in a couple more scholarships or fund seven more Ken Masons.

Another confusing art installment was that of the massive, 19-ton boulder on the Cleary Walkway in June 2011, just in front of the Pomerantz Career Center.

The boulder was brought in as part of the arts program code following the construction of Pomerantz Center and the renovations to Burge Hall and the Chemistry Building, according to the University of Iowa Museum of Art. The university commissioned this gigantic boulder, called Ridge and Furrow from British sculptor Peter Randall for a staggering price of approximately $160,000.

Forgetting about any other newly constructed projects that UI has built in the past few years, the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center, the Pomerantz Center, the Burge and Chemistry Building renovations together forced the university to spend more than $500,000 on art because of the arts program.

Having fine arts in state buildings provides a more cultured environment — however, in times of tight money, as it is, sacrifices and cuts must be made for the better of the university and its students.

It's the same for all organizations: When you're spending more than you have, you have to look at the areas that absolutely need funding and then cut in areas that could go without. It's called budgeting. The inclusion of fine arts in newly constructed state buildings is one of those areas in which we can go without.

The Art in State Buildings Program is not only inappropriate in these times but also unnecessary. When the UI invested $70 million in the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center, officials weren't going to do the bare minimum and make their new facility look anything less than stellar. It's only smart to make great scenery for the new building, because it will attract more patrons.

The university doesn't need the government to tell it to make its facility look nice — the facility could have included plenty of other pieces of art for a much cheaper price, avoiding the massive $350,000 check.

Although seeing fine arts in state buildings is very appealing, it should not be forced by the Iowa government under any circumstance, especially in fiscally stressful times.


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