Millions of tax dollars on civic art spending?

November 25, 2009 8:25:46 AM PST
Wait until you see how an artist wanted to spend $200,000 of your money at a new city building. You may understand why the cops tried to rein in the project. We're spending millions on civic art. It's supposed to dress up city buildings and define Houston's image for tourists, but what image do we want to send?

When Woody calls, Bullseye comes running. However, this is no 'Toy Story.' This is the color of money.

There was something missing from that grand opening in October of the new HPD Mounted Patrol facility on Little York. No, not the horses - the art. It had been planned for years and showcased in the Houston Chronicle, one of the promised art projects from the Houston Arts Alliance this year. Fifty-two aluminum carousel horses and dogs for the kids to sit on. A project called Doughty Do.

But just one problem.

"The cast aluminum wasn't going to be durable enough and could create safety hazards. We'd anticipate children would be climbing all over these horses," said Chief Munden.

Bullseye comes to the rescue. The Disney horse became the artist's inspiration for her revised piece of city art. Really. But more rounded, curvy, bulbous, and of course heroic. This is what she wanted to build.

"It did kind of look like a Toy Story horse," said Chief Munden.

The reviews from the police were, well, not kind.

"We presented the initial art concept to the chief and he was not pleased," Chief Munden said.

The mounted patrol didn't mince words.

"Hate it," wrote one.

"This is ridiculous," added another

Another response: "This is a state of the art facility that will be a laughingstock if that kind of crap is involved."

And another: "It looks like something from a Flintstone cartoon."

"Tell the artist to come out and look at a horse and do a lifelike sculpture, not something he created in his mind while smoking weed and watching Sunday cartoons," was yet another response.

Can you guess what was going to be the inspiration for the sculptured dogs? The super dog, Bolt.

Chief Harold Hurtt said no. In an email, the artist complained the police chief shouldn't have veto power, because "he cares little and knows even less about art. Let the experts do their job."

This is now the current design - a 12 foot sculptured horse and two eight-foot sculptured dogs. Three animals instead of 52, but the price is the same: $216,000. That's the color of money.

The fight over Bullseye reminded us of tax money being spent just debating what's art. Remember the planned art work for Fire Station 8? Nearly $175,000 of your money? Firefighters hated it.

"I think a lot of people at first termed it as a flaming chicken," said Houston Fire Department Chief Phil Boriskie.

When we asked Jonathan Glus what it looked like, he replied, "It looked like a phoenix."

In the end the chicken or phoenix or whatever bird it was flew the coop, along with $25,000 of your tax money.

Today, more than a year after it opened, the fire stations windows are still empty and a new artist is on the job.

Last November, we questioned why the city had spent $69,000 on city art and then put it inside a poop plant. One piece of art was near the Coke machine in the employee breakroom.

"I also think in that case we should probably move the piece," said Glus.

A year later, Aqua Profunda Est Quieta is still here. The video presentation is still turned off. The pictures of water molecules are still lining the hallways.

So a year is not enough time to move the art, but at least the Coke machine is gone.

The city says it does plan to move this art eventually when the new code enforcement building is renovated. Another tourist attraction.

That's the color of money.

One of the biggest art projects promised this year was a sculpture at the new water museum. Want to see your tax dollars flushed away? Tune in Wednesday night at 10pm.

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