Advocates press again for ‘Percent for Art’ bylaw in Amherst

Staff Writer
Friday, April 14, 2017

AMHERST — Supporters of public art are making another attempt at convincing Town Meeting to adopt a bylaw that would create a new revenue stream to pay for installations and performances.

The Percent for Art bylaw, which would designate that 0.5 percent of the construction costs for new or renovated municipal buildings go toward public art, returns a year after Town Meeting referred the concept for more study.

Eric Broudy, a member of the Public Art Commission that is sponsoring the article, said it remains a good time to push for the bylaw, even with the recent defeat of the twin elementary school project. Three building projects, including a renovated and expanded Jones Library, a new Department of Public Works headquarters and a new South Amherst fire station, remain in planning stages and would be eligible for the program.

Broudy said changes have been made to the original bylaw that respond to concerns. They include making performing arts, rather than just visual arts, explicitly eligible for funding, and making the Public Art Commission the final arbiter for selecting art, rather than the town manager.

The bylaw’s purpose, according to language on the warrant, “is to direct the integration of artwork into public spaces and public works projects in the town of Amherst through a well-administered and appropriately funded public art program.”

The commission, Broudy said, is also no longer making the argument that the bylaw would add only minimal costs to the building projects, with the average household expected to pay less than the price of a cup of coffee per year for the art to be included in building projects, based on a 25-year bond with a 4.5 percent interest rate.

Instead, Broudy said, the commission is making the pitch that adding public art to a public building is no different from adding an amenity such as exterior landscaping or granite countertops instead of Formica.

“Art should be considered an integral part of a project, not an add-on,” Broudy said.

The art would be installed at the sites, though the bylaw allows for exceptions to use other sites or keep money from the program in a fund to pay for future projects.

Capital renovations that exceed $100,000 would also be eligible for the program, with money going specifically toward performances.

The Finance Committee, like last year, is not recommending the article, expressing concern about it increasing costs to taxpayers to do various building projects. Last year, with an estimated $100 million in building projects in the pipeline, the Percent for Art would have generated $500,000.

Broudy, though, said the bylaw includes language that the amount going toward art would never go over 0.5 percent and would often be less.

The Select Board, which recommended the bylaw last year, will take up the article at its meeting Wednesday.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.