Development Incentives In Indianapolis Will Now Support Public Art, With A Focus On Impoverished Neighborhoods

The Indianapolis City-County Council approved a new percent for art program on Monday that will require developers to fund public art in exchange for financial support for their projects.

This percent for art program differs from many others throughout the U.S. that are tied to a city or state’s own taxpayer-funded capital spending. For example, under those programs, if a municipal building is constructed or a street is redesigned, a percentage of project funds might go towards a new statue, mural, or other artwork at the site.

Instead, Indianapolis’ percent for art program requires developers who have benefited from Tax Increment Financing for their projects to contribute their own funds to public art, equaling one percent of the credit they received. I don’t have the space or knowledge to fully explain how TIF works here, but it boils down to a financial incentive for developers to build in specified regions.

Here’s an excerpt from the percent for art legislative text:

If the estimated construction costs of a capital improvement project exceed $100,000, and if the city has provided or agreed to provide an economic incentive for the project, then as part of the overall project agreement between the city and the Recipient, the Recipient must agree to contribute, from non-incentive funds, an amount equal to one (1) percent of the estimated value of the economic incentive to the Public Art for Neighborhoods Fund.

Drawing on one percent of TIF benefits will create a much smaller public art funding pot than traditional percent for art programs, which are based on total project costs.

Councillor Blake Johnson, who sponsored the bill, said that based on previous TIF spending, this program would have pulled in about $1.4 million over the last four years, or just $350,000 per year.

“It’s a little bit more scaled back than some [other] programs,” he said. “We don’t think of it as a fee, more as a chip-in.”

That got me a little riled up, considering the fact that Indianapolis’ percent for art program is specifically aimed at increasing art in impoverished neighborhoods. Johnson’s legislation stipulates that the selection committee overseeing percent for art projects will put at least 50 percent of funds towards neighborhoods where the average income is at or below 138 percent of the Federal poverty line.

With this goal in mind, why keep the program “scaled back?”

“There’s a recognition that we have in our city a $50 million structural deficit, so I don’t think we we’re looking to augment arts funding [so much as] looking for a community-based effort,” he said. “What can neighborhoods accomplish when they have this mechanism to pursue public art in their own community?”

He also noted that percent for art has been percolating through Indianapolis’ government for years, and with the “political will and appetite” for it emerging, “we just took the approach to start small and explore the impact of this.”

Percent for art made it through the City-County Council last year as well, but former Mayor Greg Ballard vetoed it. Another proposed version of the program was withdrawn in 2013.

Sitting Mayor Joe Hogsett is reportedly expected to sign the legislation this time around.

“We want to explore that we’re doing it right and see how the projects manifest,” Johnson said. “I think this is a good starting place for our city and our work around public art.”

Featured Image: “Bright City,” Shawn Causey, commissioned by the Arts Council of Indianapolis. Source: shawncausey.com.