13 Undercover asks, 'Where's the art?'

November 24, 2009 7:42:04 AM PST
The city of Houston is in big financial trouble, yet 13 Undercover discovered millions of your dollars sitting unused for years. Wayne Dolcefino is back with a portrait of waste, mismanagement and questionable spending.For 10 years, the city has required that a piece of every big city building project is set aside for city art. You know how much money is sitting unused today? Over $10.4 million. You know how much the city-created art bureaucracy now costs? $12 million a year. Not just numbers, it's the color of money.

Art comes in many colors, but we know you care about the color green -- the color of money.

Let's go play with the art, so we can show you how your money is going down the drain on purpose. Take a close look at the Sabine Street Water Plant. What do you see?

"We thought it was part of the plumbing, part of the sewage system, but, man, it's artwork?" questioned Herb Washington.

Interactive art made from surplus city pipe. Much of the art work is behind a big iron fence.

Look at the signs. They aren't kidding, but here's a clue. The pressure gauge, it doesn't work.

Now see the wording on that little metal plaque, that one on the pipe outside the fence. It's art that is supposed to give you a greater appreciation of water, but you've got to work for it. Pump the old-fashioned handle a bunch. Now look up 30 feet in the air to the shower head. Here comes the water.

"A bum shower? I mean, what is it?" Washington said.

The artist says there's a reason for the crank. It might give you a greater appreciation of how easy it is to turn the water on at home.

What does Washington know anyway? His buddies are frequent frisbee golf players along Buffalo Bayou.

"Who's paying for this?" Washington asked us. When we told him who was, Washington responded, "You got to be kidding."

It's part of the money Houston sets aside from every capital improvement project just for art. This piece cost you about $160,000.

"I think it cost $160,000 too much," said Patrick Curry.

Art put behind the popular skate park on Buffalo Bayou, so you can stroll down the walkway to cool off. Except the quickest way to get to the walkway from the skate park is through a gate that says 'emergency exit only.'

"It's way too much money and it's in the wrong place," Curry said.

At least the art is there. The Wendy's commercials asked, 'Where's the beef?' Last year, 13 Undercover asked, 'Where's the art?'

In the wake of our Color of Money investigation last November, the Houston Arts Alliance pledged to finish eight specific pieces of civic art this year. Some had been in the works for years. They didn't.

"It's awful. It really is. It's a shame that projects aren't completed and it's a shame that this bureaucracy is run the way it is," said Mike Sullivan of Houston City Council.

But the rental car facility at the big airport finally has its art. It's one piece instead of the three promised, but at least it's done. They're called wind trees. Makes sense.

It's a city art project started eight years ago and it costs $250,000, a lot more than it was supposed to. It's art meant for the folks being ferried in buses to get their rental cars.

"I was on the phone. Sorry, I didn't see it," said Becky Morgan when we asked her if she noticed the trees.

However, Aaron George noticed.

"I thought it was pretty neat. It was certainly attractive on the way in, absolutely," said George.

His dad had visions of palm trees in the Caribbean.

"I'd like to go down there and see some girls in bikinis," said Roy George.

More than one arriving passenger wondered if the 30 wind trees were kind of like windmills.

"I did notice them and I thought, are they trying to generate power with those things?" asked Jeff Formica.

Another traveler, Carol Costa from California, said "They're beautiful. They're flowing in the wind and they look wonderful."

Well, some of them are flowing. Even on the windy day we were there, some of the wind trees didn't budge in the wind. But they were supposed to blow even on a calm day. At least that's what city council was promised, "The wind trees will revolve as passing buses create wind currents."

Okay so let's watch. There's a passing bus, but is it really going fast enough to create wind currents? I didn't think so.

What about the promised art projects that haven't happened? On Tuesday, wait until you see the art project that police tried to rein in.


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