I have been attending the newly formed San Diego County Arts and Culture Commissioner meetings, which are open to the public in person or by zoom, and it has been so interesting to learn about the county’s policies on public art. (You can sign up to get emails about these meeting.) There is a document called F-23 Inclusion of Works of Art on Certain County Public Buildings which is sunsetting this December and the commission has the opportunity to make suggestions on revisions to that document.
Right now, a half of one percent of the budget for a new county building worth over $10 million is allocated for art works. That is not to exceed $500,000. Public art is deemed to be all sorts of mediums, but they must be able to be seen by the general public and not, for example, stuck away in a private office.
Director of the Department of General Services (DGS) plus the architect and one member chosen from the project-sponsoring department of the new building are on a committee to make decisions about the art chosen. They usually hire an outside art consultant and, in the past, have just used a few of these on a short list. There has not been an open call for art consultants to aid in this process. But the projects undertaken have been varied and excellent.
There was a good presentation made by the DGS explaining the existing policy and even answering, in advance, questions that might come up with this open discussion. But many more questions and suggestions were made. It was reassuring to see that the new office of arts and culture was involved in this process. An ad hoc committee has been formed to make suggestions which are due in mid-September.
Another interesting learning experience was to find out that this is not the only way that public art is generated at the county level. The County Parks and Recreation department have their own policy. Plus, there is a policy on private donations of art to the county. Funding can come from the state or federal government for projects as well as funding from private donors.
We absolutely love this new series on KPBS called Art in the Open: Exploring public art across San Diego . They have covered some of the biggies in the SD County Civic Collection, but let them know by going to the link, which works you love that they might have left out. There are over 800 in the city of San Diego alone. In the last five years, $10 million in state and federal funds have come to us for public art. Grants for public art are not evenly distributed throughout the county. Unsurprisingly, the City of San Diego received the most funding from the California Arts Council, totaling $5.5 million between 2018 and 2020. That’s almost five times all the other cities in the county combined. For example, Chula Vista, the second largest city in San Diego County, only received $18,500.
We all hope that the new Commission for Arts and Culture might help to address this unbalance. But it is up to all of us to get involved.