Public Art Financing NB Sculpture Garden

Newport Beach Sculpture Garden Financing Controversy

Artist Ray Katz
Artist Ray Katz

Status Quo: Newport Beach Civic Center, a place of government, wisdom and culture. Having City Hall, the Library and the Sculpture Garden all in one place represents a beautiful nucleus that represents the City and our community. Art-focused cities like Laguna Beach, Santa Ana, Brea, Orange with Chapman University, Fullerton and Costa Mesa are all vying for an arts-interested audience. In addition, the Orange County Museum of Art is moving from Newport Beach to Costa Mesa.

Core Questions:
Does the City Government want to include culture? Yes or no
If no:
Let’s stop all arts funding that is not already in the general budget. The value of art projects only gets muddled when art is used conditionally as a band aid for political image improvement.
If yes:
a. Does the City want to be known as a city with art, using culture at its bare minimum?
b. Does the City want to be known for a special kind of art? Music Festivals, Theater etc.
c. Does the City want to be know as an art city? Where art & culture is an important part of Newport Beach’s daily lifestyle, interwoven with businesses, recreation and entertainment.

Artist Ivan McLean
Artist Ivan McLean

Without a clear answer to the aforementioned core questions and its resulting cultural direction/vision from the City Council, art will always be hit or miss. The Arts Commission and city staff can help and execute within any budget of $1000 or $5 million, but without clear direction art will stay a blow in the dark.

Core Problem:
Art & Government are two extremes clashing against each other when ignoring the elephant in the room, value. If one looks at art only financially then there is little reason for art. On the other hand, looking at art from an art for art’s sake standpoint, only minimal or no financial responsibility seems justified. How can you bring these two opposites together?

Solution – Understanding & Establishing Value:
1. Stop seeing art as an intangible money pit. Before the City invests in any project, establish each project’s intrinsic values.

2. Create a clearly established cultural vision that includes all City-desired intrinsic values of cultural programs it wants to support. These established values allow and remind new and old financially responsible parties about why the City chooses to invest in the selected kind of arts.
Example: The sculpture garden was initially created to attract more visitors to the park. It did just that, but since there was never a financially justifiably visitor range established, and the intrinsic values where not promoted, the sculpture garden landed in a gray zone. Art projects without identifiable value lead to –

3. Government sees art mostly as numbers to be paid out, which nullifies all human effort and financial investment that it had been given. Many big companies invest in art, because they are aware of all values that supporting the arts provides for their business.

Strengths of The Sculpture Garden:
Artist David Buckingham

Besides people visiting the library, City Hall, or driving by on the park’s three surrounding roads (MacArthur, San Miguel and Avocado), all are exposed to some art of the park.
The sculpture garden rotates half (currently 10) of its art pieces annually, which is the most important value creator. Its annual rotation provides fresh web content, gathers attention from the public and media, while creating an image and art history for the City. Additionally, the new artworks help more artists being exposed, create discourse, and controversy. That is exactly what art is supposed to do, starting dialogues and make us think and feel. In addition, the elements of sun and saltwater are very harsh. A cosmetic restoration would be advisable after the two years of exhibition anyway. This operating system is perfect as is.

Financing The Sculpture Garden?
Artist Warren Techentin

Since the City Council decided to create a sculpture garden, it is their decision to keep financing it or lay it to rest. If the City does not want to allocate the funds for the next exchange of the statues, it has to make the decision to end this project and explain why, as well as being responsible of how to phase it out. The Arts Commission is run by volunteers in an advisory position. If the city asks for a sculpture garden, the commission will advise and support city staff to execute such a project smoothly. The Arts Commission can not take responsibility to finance such an endeavor, because that is not their job, nor have they signed up to be expert art fundraisers. To push the financial responsibility for the sculpture garden from the City to the Arts Commission is unrealistic, since today, raising private or company funds is usually a high paid job for an art fundraising expert. If the City does not want to pay all, any, or no money for the arts, but still wishes to support our City’s culture, it might want to consider hiring such an expert fundraiser to secure the necessary cultural budget for the City.

“Art is beautiful creation that blossoms through the artist, reflecting the Source from within. The sole purpose of expressing the Arts is enhancing the quality of human existence.”
Michaell Magrutsche

Michaell Magrutsche is an Austrian-Californian multimedia artist, creative consultant, art educator and former Cultural Arts Commissioner of Newport Beach living in Laguna Beach.