Mayor responds to 13 Undercover's art critique

November 26, 2008 5:09:15 AM PST
Our 13 Undercover unit unveiled the truth on art money being mismanaged and art with questionable content. Now the mayor says the city's art program will get a new coat of paint.

This investigation continues to be controversial. One viewer wondered today if any idiot who comes along should get our art money. The arts website Glasstire.com called our story about them incendiary, homophobic, prudish and prejudiced. I think they liked it.

But we're not stopping because the color of your money is green.

Take a walk across the 92-year-old Preston Avenue Bridge. See the green button? It's art. So push it. There's suddenly a burst of water in the nearby bayou. No, it's not a fish, it's art. It's called The Big Bubble.

Move down the way and you see a sign that reads authorized personnel only. Keep out. Kind of hard to imagine tourists flocking through the iron fence at the Sabine Street Water Pumping Station.

"I would not endorse placing public artworks in facilities not open to the public," said Jonathan Glus of the Houston Arts Alliance.

The Houston Arts Alliance advertised last year to spend $100,000 on art here even though they knew the place was off limits to the public.

Now the city has decided to build a 55 foot sculpture with a shower head to provide a cooling mist for nearby skaters. The sculpture will likely be seen, but not touched.

No one planned to move the $69,000 art work we found at the poop plant until our story. And the city is back to square one on the plan to bring art to the windows of the new downtown fire station.

"We want something that will depict courage, commitment and compassion of these Houston firefighters," said Chief Phil Boriskie of the Houston Fire Department.

And a flaming bird that's been called the flaming chicken just didn't cut it.

We asked Houston Mayor Bill White what it looked like to him.

"It looked like someone lit up a bird," he replied.

A bird project that's now wasted $25,000 of your dollars.

"I'm glad that we are trying to incorporate art in public buildings," Mayor White said. "Does it always work? Probably not."

"Three months ago when I started asking for the numbers, they couldn't supply me with the numbers," said City of Houston Controller Annise Parker.

We did.

Eight million dollars was put aside, only two civic art projects were finished in years. Those included colored boxes in a park and a painting in a library. But the Houston Arts Alliance promises this year we'll see an art explosion.

"In this fiscal year we anticipate six pieces coming on line," Glus said.

That includes the art at the airport rent car facility that was chosen eight years ago.

"I think the series did bring home to me the need for more accountability and compliance with the grants we do," said Mayor White.

Suspicious numbers on grant reports may be the first place to look. Like the group that claimed they had an audience of 71,203 kids and the exact same number of senior citizens. What a coincidence. There's evidence the city has paid for art tourists haven't seen.

"If someone says they need a certain amount of money to do something they ought to do it," Mayor White told us.

Like the poetry grant. The Houston art that hasn't been read in a public event a year and a half after we bought it. We've read it and here's the first line, 'What is it about a hole?' You can read the rest here.

The poems were supposed to be compiled in a book and published. HAA knew that hadn't happened, but check this out. An HAA grant official tells the poet to claim the full amount anyway.

Are they helping artists get around the rules?

"The Arts Alliance, it's a hard lesson to learn, but they've learned it," Mayor White said.

Art is in the eye of the beholder, even if you don't see the wisdom of investing tax money in lesbian puppet tourism.

"I'm sort of proud for the fact there are grants going out to innovative, alternative arts organizations," Mayor White said. "When I was a kid people thought the Beatles White Album was radical. Now you hear it play in elevators."

So maybe someday cavemen trying to frighten traffic on Allen Parkway or a girl making nice with a Dr. Pepper bottle will sort of be like a Picasso.

Just so you will know. One viewer argued the Dr. Pepper video is art, because it's really mocking the use of sex to market beverages. But back to art that brings in tourists. The city of Houston does have lots of civic art, just most of it was built before we spent millions on art bureaucracy. You can find out where it is here. And if you are coming to town this Thanksgiving weekend, go see our art.

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