Under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago has slowed spending on public art

Written By BY DAN MIHALOPOULOS Staff Reporter Posted: 01/27/2014, 02:13am

Since 1978, the city of Chicago has required that at least 1 percent of the construction budget for any new or renovated city building has to be set aside for installing works of art in publicly accessible places on project sites.

The money required to be dedicated to art was later increased by the Chicago City Council to “1.33 percent of municipal construction or renovation costs.”

By 2004, the program was spending nearly half a million dollars a year to commission new pieces or buy art to adorn police stations, library branches, senior centers and other city buildings across Chicago.

But spending on City Hall’s pioneering “Percent for Art” program has slowed dramatically since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011, records show. In 2013, the public art program spent just $17,500 through Nov. 25. Total spending in the past three years, including expenses related to administering the program, was $50,024.

Those numbers represent a huge drop-off from the last seven full years in office for Mayor Richard M. Daley, who left office in 2011. From 2004 through 2010, total spending by the Percent for Art program was nearly $2.5 million.

In part, that’s because city spending for new buildings and restoration projects has dropped in recent years, meaning less money was funneled into the Percent for Art coffers.

Still, hundreds of thousands of dollars now sit unspent in the program’s accounts — much of that for two years or longer. The total balance in the program’s account was nearly $700,000 as of Nov. 25, officials say.

That includes more than $100,000 budgeted for art at new branch libraries in Little Village and Greater Grand Crossing in 2010. None of the money set aside for art for those two city libraries has been spent.

Another $181,232 was set aside in 2011 — but not yet spent — for a police station at 1412 S. Blue Island.

In 2010, the city spent $93,500 of roughly $202,000 that was reserved for art at the police station at 850 W. Addison. The money went almost entirely for the work of local artist Todd Palmer, records show. The remaining $104,625 in the station’s art budget has sat untouched.

Only three ongoing art projects, which will cost a total of about $140,000, have been commissioned with Percent for Art funding. Work is underway on new art for the Norwood Park Senior Center, the Dunning Branch Library and the Richard M. Daley Branch Library in West Humboldt Park, city officials say.

Emanuel spokeswoman Kelley Quinn says the city plans to use the unspent money for art but hasn’t chosen artists yet or even sought proposals for some projects.

“Many of the projects that you are citing . . . are moving forward,” Quinn says, though she could not give a timetable.

In some cases, she says, “These are multiyear budgets, funds are not appropriated yearly, and they are associated with projects that may take longer than a year to complete.”

Email: dmihalopoulos@suntimes.com

Twitter: @dmihalopoulos

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