New program will promote and pay for public art in Fort Wayne

The sculpture "City," designed by local artist George Morrison, adorns the "Superior Circle" roundabout. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)

There could soon be a lot more artwork of all sorts scattered throughout town thanks to a new program unveiled Thursday.

An ordinance will be introduced at Tuesday’s City Council meeting calling for the creation of the Public Art Program to be overseen by a 13-member volunteer commission made up of appointments from arts organizations and arts schools, as well as City Council and Mayor Tom Henry’s office. The Art Commission would review and select art that would be displayed in public spaces.

“It’s important our community positions itself to take advantage of what the arts have to offer,” Henry said. “Employers look to the quality of place (when deciding where to locate or expand), and this will make a bold statement. It will increase the value of our community and show we are more than just a city in the Midwest.”

To pay for the program, the ordinance would also create a Public Art Fund to overseen by the commission. Private grants and donations could be made to the fund, and a Public Art Giveback program would also be established that would ask developers who receive a Tax Increment Finance incentive from the city’s Redevelopment Commission to contribute, from their own funds, an amount equal to 1 percent of the incentive to the fund up to a maximum contribution of $100,000. TIFs capture taxes generated by improvement for specific uses within the designated area.

City Council President Tom Freistroffer, R-at large, said companies receiving tax breaks in exchange for investments in new buildings or equipment may also be encouraged to voluntarily contribute to the fund. “We want to appeal to professionals who want to live in a vibrant community,” he said.

The city worked with Arts United to develop the program. Arts United President Susan Mendenhall said about 350 similar programs exist nationwide, and predicted the resulting art will enhance “the rich history of who we are, have been and will be.”

Contractor Randy Strebig, who helped organize the program, predicted builders and developers will support the project. “They’re artists in their own way,” he said.

Council will discuss the the ordinance March 20 and is expected to vote March 27.

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