New legislation to be submitted to the New York City Council on Tuesday could bring an end to a decades-long debate surrounding democracy and public art.
According to the New York Times, Democratic City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl have drafted a bill that would let New Yorkers have a say in what public art gets commissioned through the city’s Percent for Art program. First inaugurated in 1982, the program requires that 1% of the budget of capital construction projects be used to commission and install art in squares, subways, streets, and other shared spaces. Currently, these decisions are made by a committee of city officials and local art experts behind closed doors. The law would mandate that the Cultural Affairs Department “hold one or more public hearings on such works of art” prior to including them in a project. It would also require that citizens be notified in advance through the Cultural Affairs Department website about intentions to commission a public artwork.
The bill was spurred by recent controversy in Long Island City, after the government revealed renderings of a statue by Israeli artist Ohad Meromi to be installed on the median between Jackson and 43rd Avenues (an area that Van Bramer represents). Following their release, the eight-foot-tall magenta “Sunbather” — as the artist dubbed it — became the subject of controversy, including one community board member likening it to “Gumby’s grandmother.”