East Lansing’s Percent for Art Program

The City of East Lansing’s Percent for Art program sets aside a fraction of the budget for all public facility and capital improvement projects and dedicates it to their Public Art Fund, fostering a creatively and economically prosperous community.

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Scheveningen Black by Jennifer Bartlett in New York City

Challenge

Mayor Nathan Triplett wanted to find ways to build upon East Lansing’s existing framework to create a more vibrant and attractive setting, capable of attracting and retaining talent. Turning to public art as an avenue through which a community can enhance its unique character, he realized that he needed a method of sustainably financing the already existing Public Art Fund with enough capital to leave an innovative and lasting mark on the city.

Overview

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Crystal Blue and Amber Tower by Dale Chihuly in Louisiana

Percent for Art programs have been piloted successfully and with significant longevity throughout the nation. East Lansing saw an opportunity to strengthen their own arts infrastructure through adopting a similar program. Generally, Percent for Art programs mandate that in all public development and improvement projects, one percent of the project’s budget is dedicated to the production of public art. This public art could be part of the ongoing development, or displayed at a different location within the community that would particularly benefit from the artwork. Created to ensure that public art has access to a dedicated funding stream, East Lansing’s Percent for Art program works similarly to several others in existence. However, those who worked on drafting the ordinance went the extra mile to tailor the fine points of the initiative specifically to their community, capping contributions at $25,000 and offering developers three different pathways through which they can provide for public art.

Accomplishments

East Lansing’s Percent for Art program is fairly new, and therefore developers of burgeoning projects are just now taking their ideas and contributions to the Arts Commission. However, the outstanding cooperation between the Arts Commission and developers with the intention of weaving public art into the fabric of East Lansing life is certainly an early accomplishment of the program.

Participation

East Lansing’s Percent for Arts program was the result of a combined effort, but Sarah Triplett, director of public policy for Creative Many, indicates that East Lansing was lucky to have a mayor that recognized and advocated for the importance of art in a community. The East Lansing Public Arts Commission and the East Lansing City Council were both instrumental in implementing this program, and their input resulted in an ordinance well-tailored to suit the city’s needs. The program itself is designed to be a collaborative effort between the Public Arts Commission, developers, the East Lansing arts community, and even the public, all intended to display pieces of art that add cultural uniqueness to the city.

Funding

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On display at Northridge Library in Los Angeles

The Percent for Art program essentially offers developers of public facilities, or those budgeting for capital improvement projects, three main avenues through which to comply with the ordinance. In most cases, they would dedicate one percent of their budget to the general fund. The money would then be channeled into the Public Art Fund, which is administered by the East Lansing Public Arts commission. However, if the budget for a project exceeds $500,000, developers may instead choose to use up to $25,000 to either incorporate public art into the project or donate a work of art to the city.

Budget

Currently, the program is still in the early stages of implementation, and the city is just now beginning to address artistic options for new developments in East Lansing. As these projects begin to come to fruition, the funds dedicated from developers will move into the Public Arts Fund, growing their current budget in a manner that reflects the volume and cost of new developments.

How-to

  • Do your research – Successful Percent for Art Programs operate in several states and cities throughout the nation, and there exist some great examples of best practices that can be replicated in your locality. At the same time, some programs have been unsuccessful for various reasons. Study what factors have influenced the success or failure of Percent for Art programs, and keep these factors in mind when designing your own ordinance.
  • Define your goals – Sit down with your city officials, the arts community, and residents of your locality. Together, work on defining exact goals for the program that fit the needs of your surroundings. Is there a park in need of some vibrancy, or does a street call for a mural? Knowing ahead of time what areas could use the benefits that come along with public art will help you identify later how to allocate resources.
  • Draft an ordinance – Work with your city council or other public officials to create an ordinance whose language is specific to the character of your community. Taking time to hear and include the input of a variety of community representatives will help ensure that the final draft is supported by local officials and the community at-large, making its intended goals more likely to be achieved.
  • Communicate effectively – Making sure that the community is aware of the current status of the program and what pieces of public art are in the works for the future will help build community interest and enthusiasm for the program. Further, maintaining effective communication with developers throughout the creative process is also essential, making sure that they’re aware of their options and eliminating any possible confusion.

Lessons Learned

Sarah Triplett from Creative Many has some tips for cities looking to pilot their own Percent for Art program. First, though East Lansing modeled the structure of their program after similar programs that exist throughout the country, they also took a wealth of time to make sure that their ordinance was well-drafted and tailored to reflect their community’s specific needs and goals. Unlike some cities with ordinances so vague that developers are confused by what can and cannot be considered “art,” East Lansing’s ordinance defines exactly what they’re looking for in terms of public art. This, in turn, makes the development process smoother (and even fun!) for all involved. Furthermore, Triplett suggested that cities create a type of unifying signage so that residents will be able to recognize which public art projects were a result of the Percent for Art program. Although it seems like a minute detail, signage goes a long way in lending legitimacy and building public enthusiasm for the ordinance.

Similar Projects

Percent for Art programs have flourished at both state and local levels for decades throughout America. For more information check out:

Percent for Art Project in New York City
City of Los Angeles Percent for Public Art
State of Louisiana Percent for Art Program

Contact the Experts

For more information about Lansing’s Percent for Art program, contact the East Lansing Arts Commission