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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Portland sewer dollars for art projects -- illegal?

The latest city audit raises that interesting question, among others:

The revised City Code does not specifically state which City bureaus are required to participate in the Percent for Art program. Instead, the Code defines a participating bureau as "a City of Portland Bureau or Commission that funds an Improvement Project within the meaning of this Chapter." City Code states that sewer and water system construction fund and operating fund revenues are not eligible for Percent for Art. However, some Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) construction projects have included Percent for Art allocations. The public art piece shown below was funded as part of the BES Swan Island Pump Station. We looked into BES’ participation in the program because their contribution of sewer funds to Percent for Art seemed to be in conflict with this Code language.

BIG PIPE PORTAL: Making the Invisible Visible (2009)
Artist: Rhiza A + D
Funding: Percent for Art - City of Portland
Location: Swan Island

We discussed the situation with the City Attorney’s Office and learned that there are legal opinions on the use of sewer and water operating and construction fund revenue for art. According to the opinions, if an artwork meets certain conditions, one of which is meeting the "connected with" test (meaning that the art is somehow related to the operation of the sewer system), then the use of funds on art is appropriate. The opinion directs the bureau to document how projects meet the test before contributing money to art.

A BES business services manager told us that the bureau allocates money to Percent for Art from capital expenditures used to construct habitable facilities like offices or pump stations, but there is no bureau policy that outlines this practice. There was no documentation of how their Percent for Art allocations met the "connected with" test created before the allocations were made. RACC provided us with a policy last updated in 1994 on BES and Water participation in Percent for Art. RACC reported the policy was originally created when they were a City bureau, with the participation of BES.

The lack of clarity around sewer funds may result in confusion among BES staff about which projects should include a Percent for Art allocation. There may also be public confusion, since Code language suggests that these funds are not eligible and City Attorney opinions found their use allowable under certain conditions. Our concern that Percent for Art guidelines are unclear, a major issue from the 2005 audit, still exists today in the areas described above.

Comments (22)

I'm confused. Is Bojack pulling my leg with some made up legal crap coming from City of Portlandia, and a cool photoshopped picture of a big pipe? Or is this true?

Either way, this is sad.

The truth, I mean. Or the satire.

I know the location where that's located. It's on Swan Island basically in the middle of nowhere near the UP Albina switchyard. More geese see this than people ever will.

BTW, it's also near where one the giant acupunture needles was last year, probably only visible from space.

Your tax dollars at work in times of need.

Portland ranks first among american cities for sewer art. Don't be such a hater.

This piece is actually amazing. The artist did a great job and it is sad that our dollars have not made this art more accessable to all of us. The purpose of 'public art' is to offset the impervious surface and cold effect of industry by beautifying our built environment. I think the river dies a great job of that in and of itself.

Fruedian slip- does not dies.

It's a cover up. They're actually constructing a Stargate.

Har har.

There is some beautiful publicly funded art out at Wapato Jail, $1.1 million worth (excluding debt service charges, mothballing fees, and staff time).

Too bad nobody gets to enjoy it.

I like the Stargate theory. The plan is to build streetcars in other universes.

In reading this report it suggests that not only are funds being misappropriated from projects but also spending for the arts occurs at a level far exceeding what is to be allocated.
So in 2006 we went from a formalized percent for art to 2% for art and the last fiscal year spent 9%??!!!

It is so very very very hard for the city to just spend money on what it is levied for. In fact, it might actually be impossible for them. Like setting a two year old in front of a cupcake and telling them not to touch it.

But I must confess, I really like this peice in connection to the Big Pipe. Why didn't they put it down on the central waterfront somewhere where people could experience it?

Obviously it has already been vandalized, but which part?

A streetcar would open this up niceLy for public access.

Teresa: If you are referring to the table I think you are referring to, on page 3, you may have misread the column headings. The percent for art investment holds at 2% of any given project. The column you are looking at says that these revenues accounted for 9% of RACC's total budget in 2009-10. (RACC does many other things besides public art.)


Given that RACC's website shows seven employees dedicated to the Public Art program, any idea what percentage of your budget is spent on Administration vs. the percentage spent on Artists.

As an outsider looking in, the organization looks very top heavy.

Hi, Mister Tee. RACC spends 12.8% of its budget on administration and management. You can see our FY10 financials on page 20 of our annual report, www.racc.org/report. You can also see a detailed listing, including budget and funding sources, for all public art projects commissioned last year, on pages 10-11 on that report. And there's a detailed listing of all grants that were awarded last year, on pages 14-19. In case I am unable to check this blog very often, please feel free to email directly with any questions you might have.

Wait...wait...It's not completed!

It has to have the final wash of raw sewage before the fashionistas can enjoy it.


I wonder if those seven "Public Art" titled employees are included in the "Public Art" budget category, or are some/all of them included in the Management and General" category?

If you add the two together, they would total almost $2 million your (roughly) $6.7 million budget, or nearly 30%.

Is any of that $2 million actually spent on art installations?

MT: Those salaries are included in management and general. Please note that half our public art staff are part-time. Public art salaries totaled $237K last year. Payments to artists (including their materials) totaled $1.16 million last year. We also receive many contributions for public art maintenance, and RACC charges consulting rates to other organizations (the Denver Hospital, for example) that want to tap into our public art expertise. These revenues go a long way toward offsetting the costs of Portland's public art program.

They have to put it where nobody can see it. Otherwise the meth heads will take it.

In my opinion, government involvement in art should be the same as government involvement in religion.

ANY public art should be 100% funded by patrons of the art. Tax dollars shound never under any circumstance go to fund 'art'. How many tax payers have had extra money to purchase art they might want to enjoy?
If we the tax payers can't afford something - the government sure can't afford it!
It is just like the national tax breaks that were held in place for 2 more years. Those who don't need the tax cut can donate their money to public art or any other pet project.
Just let average working people keep their money.

I'm just glad I don't live in Dman and Barbara's world.

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