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GOP Budget Eliminates Robert Ray-era Art Program

Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Public art at east-bound I-80 rest stop at Adair. The work, "The Greatest Story Never Told," by artist David Dalquist, is about U.S. Vice-President Henry Wallace

A program to encourage the installation of art in Iowa’s public buildings is on the chopping block at the statehouse.  

We want to use taxpayer money more efficiently. -Sen. Charles Schneider

A Republican-sponsored budget bill eliminates the Art in State Buildings program enacted under the leadership of Republican Governor Robert Ray back in 1979.   

Works of art can be  viewed  at more  than 160 public buildings in Iowa, many of them by Iowa artists, as a result of the program that captures  one-half of one percent of the cost of public buildings to commission paintings or sculptures.  

Credit Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Public art at Iowa State University's Biorenewables complex

But the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee wants to use taxpayer money more efficiently.

I think it's short-sighted. -Sen. Joe Bolkcom

“We believe that taxpayer money ought to go to actual infrastructure to the maximum extent possible,” said Sen. Charles Schneider (R-West Des Moines).

Funding for state buildings is typically approved through the infrastructure budget which is primarily made up of gambling revenue.

“We have to be careful about what we spend,” said Rep. Dan Huseman (R-Aurelia), co-chair of the infrastructure budget committee.    “We had to defer some things this year.”

Credit Jeff Becker
Hawkeye football coach Kirk Ferentz pats Lawrence Nowlan's 2006 bronze statue of Nile Kinnick at Kinnick's namesake stadium at the University of Iowa, a work commissioned through the Art in State Buildings program

The projects can be found on university campuses, highway rest stops and state parks across the state and around the capitol complex.   

Iowa was one of the first states in the country to adopt a percent for art law.   Now 25 states and the District of Columbia have similar laws, according to the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

“I think it’s short-sighted,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City), commenting on the proposal to eliminate the program.   “It employs Iowans that are artists and I think we want to encourage the arts in  Iowa and the state can be a player in that by this small contribution to public art.”

In a statement, a spokesman for Governor Branstad said he would carefully review all budget bills once they’re approved.

“We understand the tight budget situation is not ideal,” said spokesman Ben Hammes.