Longform

THE TWO FACES OF ARTBETWEEN THE GODDARD AND JOHNSON ADMINISTRATIONS, PHOENIX'S PUBLIC ART PROGRAM WAS KNOCKED OFF ITS PEDESTAL

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Navarre says, "The visionary and innovative spirit of the commission had been squashed."

Among the departed are: Deborah Whitehurst, the commission's director for seven years, who left last September to work with the nonprofit Arizona Community Foundation, which administers endowments. She also has hung out her shingle as a public-art consultant, and has become a popular speaker at arts-administration conventions. Her last words to the commission, duly recorded in the minutes of the meeting, were: "You all need to hold the ideal of the arts as a critical part of the way a great city develops; advocate for it; work for it. There are many people out there who don't believe it."

Gretchen Freeman, public-art manager, left to spend more time with her children. She is also pursuing consulting opportunities.

Nina Dunbar, also a member of public-art staff, departed to become a consultant, and is working with developers in Vancouver.

Sharon Southerland and Rob Shultz, a public-arts worker and staff registrar, respectively, left because their positions were eliminated.

Pat Dowd, arts-in-education coordinator, left to pursue her Ph.D.
"I think Deborah was a loss," says Mayor Johnson. "I think Deborah did a good job.

"I hate to lose [the others]. I think there are other people we can find who are qualified and who can do a good job. The only thing I can say about the people who are leaving is that I thought they did a good job. That doesn't mean that there weren't times where there were disagreements, where I thought we could've done a better job. There isn't a staff person in the city that I wouldn't make that statement about."

The money follows
The commission's budget for public art--the Art Plan--has dropped from a high of $4,739,000 in fiscal 1989-1990 to $1,377,000 for the current fiscal year.

The decrease, explains city officialdom, is linked to the bad economy in recent years. And except for the huge new City Hall that somehow got built, it's true: There's been a big decrease in spending on capital improvements, and a corresponding dive in the 1 percent add-on for arts. Most of the cultural enhancements included in the big, 88 bond program have also been delayed.

The same economic slowdown gets the blame/credit for staff reductions at the arts commission. In the boom days, the office had 12 full-time staffers. These days, there are 8.5. All of the disappeared were in public art--actually classified as temporary positions, according to the City Manager's Office--and funded by percent-for-arts money. Which puts the arts commission's staff drop, temporary or otherwise, at nearly 30 percent. According to the city's Budget and Research Department, the staff reduction at the Phoenix Police Department over the past couple of lean years has been 1.7 percent. According to the mayor, no "sworn personnel" (read: armed) positions have been eliminated at the PPD, meaning the reduction encompassed file clerks and their ilk. Meanwhile, parks and rec took a 2.5 percent hit. Citywide, the staff reduction was held to 2.9 percent. City bean counters argue that comparing capital-improvement dollars with general-fund dollars is apples-and-oranges accounting. The public-art program, like all of the other agencies linked to capital-improvement money, was designed to ebb and flow. Take, for example, the ebb over at the streets department, which has absorbed a 23 percent "staffing impact" hit--88 "positions eliminated due to workload cutback" since around the turn of the decade, according to Budget and Research. Engineering and Architectural Services is down 46 percent from the days of the everexpanding city; the finance division of the real estate acquisitions department has bled 96 percent--decimated from 9.36 positions to .36.

Perhaps the most telling column of figures in the arts commission files charts the actual percentage of available percent-for-art money that is spent. These figures have plummeted in the past couple of years, from a high of almost 90 percent in 1990-1991 to the all-time low of 16.75 percent in 1991-1992. That year, remembered as the fiscal year of the parkway pots, only $688,000 of the more than $4 million available for public art was used.

As the budget for public art has dropped, the true dollars-spent figure has dropped even further. According to Mark Leonard, acting director of the arts commission, more than $8 million made available under the percent-for-arts program has gone unspent over the years--an amazing figure, when you consider that all the percentage-for-arts expenditures since 1988 add up to only $7.2 million.

In other words, the city has spent less than half of what it could have spent.
Leonard, who is on loan to the commission from the city's Budget and Research Department, says the unspent millions--actually unissued bond money--are "recoverable" for future arts projects. The mayor says: "It's unfortunate that some people believe the funding issue was connected to the pot debate. The funding issue was connected to the fact that we went through our worst budget, literally, in the city's history.

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Dave Walker