The Village of Oak Park has penciled in the fine lines of a new law that would require developers and village hall to buy pieces of public art each year. But the village board held off on filling out the idea, worried that some of it may be poorly drawn.

With the onset of the Great Recession, arts organizations have been some of the first to take their lumps. As recently as 2008, the village was dishing out $80,000 a year toward public art.

But as its financial situation has worsened, Oak Park has eliminated that funding over the past two years. So, the Public Arts Advisory Commission – a volunteer panel that advises the village board about art – has an idea that could bring more stability to organizations in the local arts community.

The program is billed as “Percent for Art,” commissioners told the village board at a meeting Monday, and has been talked about since 2005. Under the preliminary proposal, village hall would be required to allocate 1 percent of its capital improvement budget toward public art. With $4 million in planned spending this year, that would amount to about $40,000.

Percent for Art would also require developers building, or rebuilding, a project costing more than $3 million to invest 1 percent of their construction costs toward public art. The requirement would, however, max out at $150,000. This could be done by buying the piece of art, subject to approval from the commission, or dropping money into a fund.

John Troelstrup – president of Oak Park Area Arts Council and a former village trustee – said his organization “strongly supports” the ordinance. The council could receive dollars from the program, commissioners said.

“I think it’s a good investment for the community, and it speaks of our commitment -our long commitment – to the arts,” he said.

But Pat Zubak, director of the Downtown Oak Park business association, told trustees that she worries the new law could be a hindrance that might dissuade some developers from coming here.

Trustee Jon Hale questioned whether the amounts for the program were set too high, and that the village is already demanding too much from developers – asking for environmentally sustainable buildings and possibly affordable housing in the future.

On the other side, arts commissioners argued that a sculpture would boost the value of someone’s building, and developers who build up to a certain size are already required to obtain public art-although no dollar amount is set.

Trustees also worried that funding for the arts would continue getting cut from each year’s village budget if the program were side by side in a budget next to street repaving.

Trustees directed village staff to discuss the new program with business people and other stakeholders in the community, and to figure out how it might be funded. The commission was asked to further flesh out its proposal, and to return to the board sometime this fall.


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