Legislation intended to curb spending on the cost of art for public buildings in Louisiana is moving closer to law.
House Bill 216, by Rep. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, has hardly been controversial as it sailed through both legislative chambers, but it’s rankled local artists. State law requires that 1 percent of the total spent on a major public construction project or renovation be spent on art inside or outside of the grounds. The bill would add a cap of $450,000 to the art expenditure, or 1 percent, whichever is less.
The measure will be scheduled for conference committee so both chambers can work out disagreements over amendments. If both sides come to an agreement that both chambers approve, it will move forward to the governor for his signature.
As legislators have been struggling with finding ways to shore up the state budget — which is $600 million short for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1 — publicly funded art works have come under scrutiny.
Hensgens previously took aim at a $350,000 glass sculpture at the new $1.2 billion University Medical Center in New Orleans as an example of spending excess.
The Senate previously added an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, that mandated agencies could not spend money on art until first seeking out donations.
Hensgens ultimately asked the House to reject the amendment because he said receiving free art would prevent the agencies from getting to the 1 percent of funds that have to be expended on art. On Wednesday, the House voted to reject the amendment.
Ahead of the vote, art advocates like Louisiana Citizens for the Arts urged the Legislature to reject the amendment, calling it offensive to the trade.
“The artists of Louisiana, especially those involved in the Percent for Art Program, are professionals, often with decades of training and dedication. Many have their work commissioned, installed and paid for by communities around the country,” the nonprofit wrote in an open online letter to legislators. “These artists are small-business people with a payroll to meet, rent to pay and their own families to feed.”
The organization also said Louisiana ranks 40th in per capita arts funding and is 11th out of 15 Southern states.
Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen.