State House support grows for Massachusetts Public Art Program

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Just two weeks after submitting legislation, 38 Representatives in the Massachusetts House have signed on as co-sponsors to the Massachusetts Public Art Program bill, which will bring public art to newly constructed state buildings.

Emerging from a task force consisting of artists, planners, community developers, and legislators, An Act To Establish a Massachusetts Percent for Arts Program, is sponsored by Representatives Chris Walsh and Cory Atkins in the House and Senator Eric Lesser in the Senate.

Modeled on the nation’s oldest state public art program based in Hawaii, the Massachusetts Public Art Program, or MPAP, would invest an estimated $2 million dollars a year towards the creation and preservation of public art on Commonwealth-owned properties. By guaranteeing a percent of new capital expenditures being spent on projects, a guaranteed stream of revenue will be available for public art. These art projects will help to invigorate and vitalize the communities in which they are located as well as promote engagement with the Commonwealth’s civic infrastructure.

“The infrastructure of the Commonwealth provides the backbone of its communities, often physically shaping how residents come together as people and interact with each other and their government. Yet too often projects are built without taking stock of the importance of the design in creating and capturing the experience of a place. We need to use these opportunities to use the power of public art to build a healthy, vibrant, and inclusive Massachusetts,” said Andre Green, MASSCreative’s Political Director who helped craft the bill with the task force. 

The bill proposes that 1% of the new capital budget for state buildings in any fiscal year, an amount estimated at $2 million/year, would be placed into a fund that would be available for the creation, purchase, and maintenance of public art on Commonwealth property.  

Massachusetts has had similar public art programs, one which paid for public art on the MBTA Red Line Extension in the 1980s. In 2014, Governor Deval Patrick issued Executive Order 553 creating a similar public art program, which became the basis for legislation that was passed as part of the 2016 budget. The legislation was vetoed by the Governor, citing technical issues. This bill represents a renewed attempt to secure public art funding into Massachusetts statute.

State public art programs exist in 28 states, including every other state in New England. Here in the Commonwealth, the cities of Cambridge and Boston have implemented versions, and the Town of Amherst is voting on the issue this spring at the Town Meeting. We look forward to hearings on the issue in the spring.

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