There has been a great deal of discussion in recent weeks as well as some media attempts to sensationalize the Percent for Arts program as an extravagance the state cannot afford. In fact, the Legislature is considering a measure to limit the program.
I certainly have no objection to scrutinizing the effectiveness and cost of every program. However, this discussion has strayed far from a discussion on its merits, with some even suggesting that we should use this saved money for the TOPS program, health care and college costs. Such comments are, at best, based on a misunderstanding of budget laws and practices and, at worst, a deliberate attempt to sensationalize and mislead.
The program was established by law in 1999 from legislation authored by then-members of the House, Diane Winston and Francis Thompson. The stated purpose was to recognize the state’s responsibility to foster culture and the arts and to encourage the development of artists and craftsmen. The administration of Gov. Mike Foster strongly supported this program. The legislation passed overwhelmingly, with only 1 of 144 members of the Legislature voting “no.” It is relevant to note that the state budget was around $13 billion when the program was so popular. The budget is now $25 billion.
The program requires that 1 percent of construction dollars for projects exceeding $2 million be allocated for the arts in that particular building. This 1 percent is not added to the cost. Many of such projects are funded with bond sales and, by law, cannot be switched to operational costs. Legislation to eliminate or scale back this arts program will not result in one penny being available for the TOPS program, health care or college costs. Not one penny.
Any savings will simply be used in the building itself, perhaps adding more office space or another conference room. The state cannot mingle bond sale proceeds and operating expenses.
We are immensely rewarded by the art our predecessors included in many of the great buildings of the world. Imagine our State Capitol or the U.S. Capitol without any of the magnificent sculptures, murals and paintings that give us a sense of the culture of the times in which they were built. I invite everyone to see the great work of Louisiana artists in the Claiborne Building in Capitol Park. View the impressive work by the late Michael Crespo, which allegorically depicts the story of how good government reaps rewards for its citizens.