Amherst public art funding bylaw sent back to drawing board

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Saturday, June 15, 2019

AMHERST — A bylaw aimed at dedicating a portion of spending on large-scale capital projects in Amherst to support visual and performing arts is going back to the drawing board after being rejected by the state attorney general’s office.

Because the Half Percent for Art Bylaw, adopted by Town Meeting in spring 2017, failed to get necessary approvals from the state Legislature, and thus could not be approved by the attorney general, advocates from the town Public Art Commission are asking the Town Council to enact a new general town bylaw to support the arts.

“A pretty disappointing outcome, I have to say, after three years of work,” Eric Broudy, outgoing commission chairman, told the council this week about how the bylaw died in the state Legislature.

Under the article passed at Town Meeting, 0.5 percent of the construction costs for new or renovated municipal buildings, as well as any capital renovations with a value of over $100,000, would go into a public art fund and be used for visual art and performing arts. The purpose was “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 bylaw was timed to be on the books when four major capital projects begin, including a new elementary school, a new Department of Public Works headquarters, a new fire station in South Amherst, and a renovated and expanded Jones Library. None of the four projects are yet underway.

But establishing a public art fund triggered the need for a special act from the Legislature.

The House of Representatives approved this special act in 2018, but a Department of Revenue attorney for the Senate questioned the legality of having such a fund. Broudy said the concern was largely that the fund would carry over from year to year.

“This attorney’s objections, combined with our transitioning to a new form of government here, stalled further progress of the bylaw through the Legislature and it never made it through the Senate or to the governor’s desk,” Broudy said.

Town Council President Lynn Griesemer said the new proposal will be reviewed by the town attorney when a draft is submitted. The Community Resources Committee and the Finance Committee will also examine the draft and will then report back within 45 days.

Because performance art would not be funded through this latest iteration of the bylaw, Broudy said the Public Arts Commission will have to find other avenues to support music, dance and theater.