Arts Funding Stolen

Public funds intended for purchasing artworks is being wasted and stolen. Money intended to support artists and the arts community is being paid to government bureaucrats.

The University of Iowa Hospital has an agressive public art program. Under state law, a fixed percentage of all construction funds must be spent purchasing art that can be viewed by the public. The U of I has an impressive collection of work by internationally famous artists as well as many local artists, these works are seen by tens of thousands of people every day. Even the busiest museums cannot hope to present art to such a large audience.

Today, I took my mother to an appointment at the U of I Hospital. I passed familiar favorite artworks by Sol LeWitt, Andy Warhol, as well as several works by my favorite art school professors, artists I studied with. I walked through the new hospital wing, wondering what new works were selected. To my astonishment, the works were aerial photoreconaissance images of our city, maps produced by the US Geological Survey, and photographs of Earth from space provided by NASA. Certainly these images are fascinating, but they just are not art, they’re maps. Even worse, these images were prominently labeled that they were purchased with public funds for the arts. But these images are available free from the Government Accounting Office, for merely the costs of reproduction (which is insanely low ). The GAO provides prints of publicly owned artworks by famous artists like Ansel Adams. For the same cost of reproduction, they could have bought great art.

So I immediately went up to the hospital’s Project Art office to ask them why they are spending big money to purchase and frame US Government maps that they could get for almost free, instead of purchasing work by local artists. They said that their exhibits are intended to represent a diverse set of points of view. I retorted that these artworks represent no point of view except maybe LANDSAT, and they were chosen precisely to work around their desire to present diverse artworks. The maps were chosen specifically because they were not art and would not offend anyone. These works were hung in the Eye Clinic, which is a Lasik mill. Lasik is the hospital’s cash cow, and most of their patients are older rural Iowa residents, presumably with conservative (if not philistine) attitudes towards the arts. In order not to offend their clients, they have relegated real art to the corners, while technical images take center stage.

But most infuriating of all was their protestation that purchasing these maps did not deplete art purchase funds. They refused to believe these maps were purchased with funds from their own project. I told them to go down and look at the labels, they were all prominently labeled with the message required when public taxpayer money was spent.

It appears that funds have been misappropriated, spent on junk that the project was never intended to be involved with. Even worse, the money was given to bloated Federal bureaucrats instead of struggling artists. I am going to get to the bottom of this. At best it’s misappropriation of funds, at worst it’s a felony.

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