Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun
Tuesday, April 30, 2013 | 2 a.m.
In a time when local governments are still struggling to close budget deficits, using public funds for art projects can be a hot-button issue.
Proponents argue public art beautifies neighborhoods and builds a sense of community. Critics cringe at the thought of tens of thousands of public dollars being spent on artwork.
Since 2005, Las Vegas has diverted 1 percent of the city’s capital improvement budget into an arts fund that has paid for more than 40 commissioned projects throughout the city.
The fund has generated $1.3 million, $1.1 million of which has been spent, but collections have dipped in the past several years because of a slowdown in capital spending.
The dwindling funding stream could shrink even more under a bill proposed by Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers that would remove the mandate that the city set aside money for public art.
At the same time as Beers’ bill is being debated — it could come up for a final vote later this month — a similar program in Clark County is just getting underway.
Collections for the county’s program — which come from a fraction of room and property taxes — began in January and are expected to generate $300,000 in the program's first year. The fund is capped at $1.25 million per year, and funding will become available for projects starting in July.
Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who spearheaded the county’s effort, said community members in meetings and in surveys repeatedly asked for public art.
“If you have the money in the budget that’s not allocated and it’s something the community wants, why not gather those threads?” she said. “It’s a key component to building and stabilizing neighborhoods. Why not have local people come up with ideas to try and beautify neighborhoods?”
Beers said he’s supportive of public art projects, but he objects to money going to out-of-state artists.
Council members will discuss his bill Tuesday at a Recommending Committee meeting and could forward it to the full council for a vote at its May 15 meeting.
Until then, here’s a look at some of the largest projects funded by the city:
Centennial Hills Leisure Center — $89,777
Several pieces of public art can be found at the Centennial Hills Leisure Center, 6601 N. Buffalo Drive, including the illuminated glass columns designed by Oregon-based artist Darius Kuzmickas that were installed in 2008. The illuminated glass columns feature designs based on photographs of the Southern Nevada environment.
Outside the center, three metal flower silhouettes designed by local artist Jeff Fulmer greet visitors near the entrance.
Paintbrush Gateway — $350,000
The colossal glowing pair of paintbrushes on Charleston Boulevard have become a landmark in the burgeoning Arts District downtown. The 45-foot tall brushes were designed by New York artist Dennis Oppenheim and installed in 2010.
Casino Center Streetscape — $278,238
The streetscape on Casino Center Boulevard near Charleston Boulevard features a unique integration of engineering and artwork. The projected, completed in 2009 by Atomic Industries, features stars and benches with an “atomic” theme that pays homage to the city’s history.
Monument to the Simulacrum sculpture — $21,500
This mountainous steel sculpture houses the Las Vegas Centennial time capsules, which will be opened in 2105. The sculpture, at Centennial Plaza near Fourth Street and Lewis Avenue, was designed by former UNLV art professor Stephen Hendee and was finished in 2007.
Ancestral Gateway sculpture — $66,500
This sculpture at the Doolittle Senior Center, 1950 N. J St., was done by a team of four local artists in 2008.
Vegas Arabesque Cultural Corridor bridge — $50,000
The Vegas Arabesque includes swirling LED lights that imitate the neon signs of the city’s past. The piece can be prominently viewed while driving downtown on Las Vegas Boulevard, where it sits attached to a pedestrian bridge that connects several museums in the city’s Cultural Corridor. Vegas Arabesque was designed by Colorado-based artist David Griggs and was completed in 2011.
Southern Nevada Law Enforcement Memorial sculpture — $214,188
This towering three-column sculpture can be found at Police Memorial Park, near Cheyenne Avenue and Metro Academy Way. It was designed by Adolfo Gonzales of Las Vegas and dedicated in 2009.