Nina Mankin: Why former Town Meeting member opposed Percent for Art

Thursday, October 03, 2019

In my term as a Town Meeting member, the most difficult issue I voted on was the Percent (in reality “half percent”) for Art.

I have supported, sought out, relished and worked in the arts my entire life. And yet I was one of only a very small number of people in that room of over 200 who did not vote for the measure.

I am moved at the thought that, as a community, we would put our resources into cultural and creative endeavors that enrich us all; but in what was, and still remains, a time of contentious debate over a projected $150 million in public spending, I did not feel it was my right to mandate this additional expenditure from already strapped and anxious residents.

One half percent of eligible capital funds is a significant sum. Is it right to siphon these tax payer dollars toward public art when the high school cut its photography and culinary arts programs because of budget shortfalls?

I moved back to Amherst, where I grew up, to raise my son here because of the richness of this cultural and creative environment. The university and colleges that provide so little proportionately to our community by way of taxes, reward us with myriad opportunities to encounter artistic and cultural expression.

Certainly there is an economic and cultural divide in taking advantage of these, often free, resources. But isn’t that an opportunity for advancement? Might there not be ways for town/gown to work together to make this already existing richness more accessible? Might there be a way to incentivize developers, rather than taxpayers, to contribute to a public art fund?

If our community values public access to art, let’s take steps toward doing that in ways we can all celebrate and that won’t make it harder for our community to afford the capital projects (library, schools, Department of Public Works and fire station) that we need.

Nina Mankin