Advocating for the Arts–Percent for Art Gains Footing

Advocating for the Arts

East Lansing Percent for Art Proposal

Gains Footing!

As part of our advocacy efforts, the Arts Council recently put out a call for support of City of East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett’s Percent for Art public art ordinance. We are pleased to announce that as a result, the mayor’s office received more than 30 letters in praise of Percent for Art, and the City Council gave its approval to continue moving the proposal forward. The vote marks one hurdle jumped, and is great news for East Lansing, but there’s still some work to do before an official happy dance can take place.

A history of percentages

For those unfamiliar with Percent for Art, its history is as long as it is interesting and sheds light on how public art gets funded in general. Here’s the short of it: The movement began in 1930’s France where they set aside 1% of public building construction fees for public art (the model for most of today’s Percent for Art programs). In 1939, a similar program was created under President Roosevelt’s New Deal; it lasted about a decade. (Several sculptures and murals located at the Board of Water and Light’s Dye Plant are a result of the New Deal.) In 1959, Philadelphia passed the first city ordinance, which was followed by several other attempts including one by the Kennedy administration, another under President Nixon, and finally, in 1973, Seattle signed the first 1% program into law. From there, other cities began to follow suit.

Upping the ante

Today, cities all across the country are managing successful Percent for Art programs to fund their art. Granted, 1 percent may not sound like much in the way of dollars, but take for example, the Trowbridge Plaza renovation. This development could generate $170,000 for city art if a 1% ordinance were in place. While East Lansing does have a current public art fund, it sets aside only one-tenth of one percent for art, which turns that $170,000 into a mere $17,000. Let’s look at Andromeda, the graceful bronze figure that resides in the Grand River Ave. median near the Broad Museum. Andromeda, which was funded by the MSU Federal Credit Union, is a beloved and well-recognized landmark in East Lansing. She cost the city $15,000––but she is just one statue of more than 20 that help make East Lansing the “City of Art.”

Speak your art

The next steps for East Lansing include review and refinement by the East Lansing Arts Commission, Planning Commission and Downtown Development Authority (DDA). Then the ordinance will go before the City Council again. Tri-county residents have until Oct. 7 to share their support and have their voices heard. The more support from residents, the better the chances that the ordinance will pass. To take part in this arts advocacy effort, submit your letter of support to the full city council at: where it will be placed into public record. We also encourage you to send copies of your letter to the Arts Commission, the Planning Commission and theDowntown Development Authority. To make it easy for you, the Arts Council has created a sample letter that has a space for you to add your personal message.

Rising to the top

For East Lansing, growing a fund for art is important in keeping the city’s vibrant arts culture alive and growing. As is typically true with matters of the arts, arts lovers often have to defend the art’s importance. Despite myriad research proving that cities with the most tourism and the best restaurants, bars and overall experiences are also rich in arts and culture these things too often fall to bottom of the list when they should be rising to the top. The fact is, these are the kind of cities people want to visit, live in, and even stay in. East Lansing’s 1% will be a boon for the capital region as a whole, and of course, our hope will be that the entire region will follow East Lansing’s bold lead.