Louisiana’s Proposed Percent For Art Cap Pushed Up $350,000

A quick update on yesterday’s Louisiana percent for art story: the proposed public art spending cap passed the House yesterday, although it has been pushed up from $100,000 to $450,000.

Louisiana’s percent for art law mandates that 1 percent of any State building construction/renovation project over $2 million comes accompanied by public art, at a cost of 1 percent of the project’s budget. Rep. Bob Hensgens has sponsored a bill that initially sought to cap percent for art spending at $100,000 per public art project.

This limit would have been “crippling” to the program, Cultural Development Assistant Secretary Phil Boggan said.

However, Hensgens stated at a floor debate yesterday that through conversations with the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, he has since learned more about the process of incorporating public art into construction projects, and has been convinced that his proposed spending cap should be raised.

“When I first went into this bill, I’m thinking of art as the art in the front of the building, and if we’re spending $400,000 on the art in front of the building, I get nervous about that,” he said. “But if we’re spending $400,000 worth of art and it makes sure that the lights match the doors and the floors and the tiles, and it’s actually money they’re saving off their architect fees, then it’s probably dollars we’re going to spend anyway, but we’re making our buildings beautiful.”

Most of the Representatives who spoke at the floor debate were supportive of the bill, although a few suggested that the cap should be lower using the same bad logic I looked at in yesterday’s post.

Rep. Malinda White was the only person to speak critically of the bill’s intent:

“I have a concern… limiting this amount for ever and ever. When we used to talk in millions, now we talk in billions – I’m not sure that I like to hear that you put a cap on art which attracts people to our state from all over the world,” she said. “I just have concerns that artists and the profession is not looked upon as ‘real,’ and return of money on that investment is real, too.”

Hensgens responded that should the cap need to be raised in the future, a new piece of legislation could always amend the law again.

Louisiana’s percent for art debate arose originally due to the construction of the $1.1 billion University Medical Center in New Orleans, accompanied by two sculptures costing a total of $1.1 million. Hensgens also noted that there are three major percent for art projects coming down the line that, with no cap, would cost $860,000, $680,000, and $650,000, respectively.

“As our building expenses get higher and higher, those numbers are coming up that we never had before,” he said.

So it seems Hensgens hasn’t fully absorbed what he learned through his discussions with the Department of Culture. He’s still viewing percent for art projects as something nice tacked on to new buildings, not an intrinsic part of those buildings’ identities. Why pay more for public art that represents the value of its site (and, incidentally, will very likely increase the value of that site), when you can just slap on a sculpture that costs $450,000 or less?

Hensgens continues to work on the bill but said that the $450,000 proposed cap is “probably the final number.” After passing the House, it now goes to the State Senate.