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Oakland to Require Developers to Sponsor Public Art

Oakland to Require Developers to Sponsor Public Art

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Oakland, following the lead of San Francisco, will require private developers to include funds for public art in their projects. The City Council passed legislation proposed by former Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, who was elected the mayor of Oakland in November’s election, that forces developers to allocate 1% of their projects’ costs for public art, to either be displayed in their venues or given to a city arts fund. 

The city arts fund would then spend the money to display public art elsewhere in the city. Sculptures, murals and mosaics will be created to adorn the city. 

Arts advocates are delighted with the City Council’s decision. Bruce Beasley, an Oakland  sculptor with works ensconced in the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York who fought for the new law, said: 

Artists look at it as beneficial for them, but the real purpose is to enrich the city. Good public art makes cities vibrant and exciting and interesting places to be. We hope that’s what this does for Oakland. Public art should be the very best art, of the highest quality. It should be out of the museums and put in the public space. It should raise the aesthetic profile of a city. This is not welfare for artists — it will benefit everyone.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Beasley recently gave his $20 million West Oakland sculpture compound, archives and unsold works to the Oakland Museum of California.

Allocating a percentage of funds for public art is not a novel idea; many cities already require publicly funded projects to do so, including Oakland, but requiring private developers to fund public art is more rare. Cities requiring 1% for public art include Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Charlotte and New Haven. San Francisco requires 2% of costs for public buildings to be spent on public art, and 1% for private developers. 

The new Oakland law pushes the private developers to choose among roughly 5,000 local artists. Caroline Stern, a local artist, told the Chronicle that when California terminated redevelopment in 2012, arts commissions became minimal. She said, “This won’t change the world, but I’m thrilled it passed. This will make a big difference in parts of the city that are ‘arts deserts.'” Stern also asserted that more art would lead to less graffiti and vandalism, and possibly less crime. 

Gregh McConnell, president of the Jobs and Housing Coalition, articulated what some developers felt about the new law, told the Chronicle, “We don’t oppose public art, but we need to look at the cumulative effect of all these fees. At some point, it’ll be too much. There’s a lot of building going on here, but it’s still nothing like San Francisco. Now, that’s a boom. We’re not there yet.”


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