13 Undercover: Where's the art?

November 12, 2008 9:44:56 PM PST
We've put aside millions of your dollars to get art for the city. So why is some of the money collecting dust for nearly a decade? Where's the art? We've gotten an earful from artists about my supposed lack of culture because they are under the mistaken impression we spend tax money just to create art. In fact, we spend hotel tax money on art to bring in tourists to fill up hotel rooms.

That's why our focus is the color of money; your money.

In the heart of downtown, a park is born -- Discovery Green. Have you been there? Do you know where the art is?

Think color...

"The colorful bathrooms," said park visitor Nancy Retz, looking at the blocks of color at Discovery Green.

"You think those are bathrooms?" we asked.

"I thought they were," she said.

Rianna Baker gets wet under the park fountain while her mom talks to me about art.

"Roughly how much did they waste on that because that's clearly a waste of money," said Latoya Baker. "What purpose are those square boxes serving right now?"

Those colored boxes are called 'Synchronicity of Color.' The artist calls it a sumptuous patchwork and they aren't bathrooms. They cover the underground parking lot stairs, making it what the artist calls an intimate passage.

"I think it's pretty. It's nice because it's colorful for the park," said park visitor Stephanie Nguyen.

"I don't feel it all," said Baker. "What's the purpose?"

"It's art," we told her.

But we're focusing on the color of money because you bought 'Synchronicity.'

"Maybe $3,000 per building?" guessed Retz at the cost of 'Synchronicity.'

Try $352,000 for three.

"I'd say that's outrageous," said Retz.

"That seems a little excessive," said another park visitor we spoke with.

"I think it's a complete waste of money," said Baker. "That's all I can say. Just look at it."

"It is an expensive process," said Jonathan Glus with the Houston Arts Alliance. "Those pieces add so much to the vibrancy of Discovery Green."

For two and a half years, the Houston Arts Alliance has been in charge of spending your art money.

"I was shocked at how little art has been done," said Houston Controller Annise Parker.

You know the old commercial, 'Where's the beef'? Where's the art?

"In two and a half years, how many pieces of civic art have been completed?" we asked Glus.

"Completed as in installed?" he asked back.

"Completed as in completed," we said.

"Just one," said Glus. "'Synchronicity.'"

"It's an absolute perversion of what we intended to do," said Parker.

The tower of the new downtown fire station was supposed to be a beacon for city art.

"It's going to be our showpiece for the Houston Fire Department probably for the next thirty, forty years," said HFD Chief Phil Boriske.

The Art Alliance chose a design to be etched into stained glass windows to be lit at night -- $175,000 of your money. Wanna be an art critic? Take a good look at the design. What do you think it looks like?

"You and I both agree, I'm probably not an art evaluator or critic," said Boriske.

Some firefighters at Station 8 sure had an opinion when they saw the design.

"I think a lot of people at first termed it a flaming chicken," said Chief Boriske.

You'd figure for $145,000 a year in tax money, the city's art boss, Jonathan Glus, would have an opinion.

"I'm looking for your artistic opinion," we said to Glus.

"Mine?" he asked.

"Yes, because your'e the city's art guy."

After all, we paid him to go to art shows all across the country. This summer, it was 'The Glow,' the light show in Santa Monica, California.

"They thought it looked like a flaming chicken," we said to Glus.

"Uh huh," he answered.

"Does it look like a flaming chicken to you?" we asked.

"No, it looked like a phoenix," he said.

Chicken, phoenix, whatever bird you see. Let's just say the whole design has now flown the coop along with the $25,000 spent on the project so far, thousands alone for the design of the flaming, well you judge.

"I don't know when the flaming, I don't know when the fire piece is going to be done," said Glus.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the art you bought for the city's poop plant. Yes, said poop, and the piece of art some people think looks like leftover road equipment. Art is in the eye of the beholder, so why are we investigating? Because it's your money.

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