Arts commission asks for sales tax dollars

A file photo shows one of the “art shelters” along Athens Transit routes. The Athens Cultural Affairs Commission is seeking a share of proposed sales tax funds to continue the initiative. (File photo / Athens Banner-Herald/OnlineAthens.com)

Days after the Athens-Clarke County Commission accepted a public art master plan funded with $70,000 in local sales tax dollars, representatives of the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission were making a bid for additional sales tax funding, seeking a share of a proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation-related projects.

 

The ACAC, an 11-member body appointed by the mayor and commission to advise the county government on public art and aesthetic issues, worked closely for months with Todd Bressi, a Philadelphia-based urban designer and public art consultant, to develop a master plan for public art in the community.

That work, funded with proceeds of a 1 percent local option sales tax approved by Athens-Clarke County voters in 2010, produced a plan that, in broad strokes, calls for public art to “be found throughout Athens-Clarke County, in both civic locations and unexpected places, conveying the sense of our creative, culturally diverse community.”

More specifically, the plan calls for establishing a mural program including a mural wall in downtown Athens, for establishing an artist residency program in Athens, and awarding grants to artists and organizations, among other initiatives.

The plan also calls for continuing the county’s “art shelter” program, in which bus shelters designed by artists are constructed and installed along Athens Transit routes.

It was that goal, in part, that had ACAC chair Marc Beechuk and commission secretary Holly Alderman in front of a citizens advisory committee on Wednesday, asking for a $250,000 share of a Transportation-Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) that will be in front of Athens-Clarke County voters in November.

If approved by voters, collection of the 1 percent sales tax would begin in April 2018. The tax is projected to raise $104.5 million during its five-year span. Currently, the citizen advisory committee, a 22-member group appointed by the mayor and commission, is working through project proposals seeking a share of those dollars. Those submitted projects, including the ACAC proposal, carry a total projected cost of $246 million, meaning that the advisory committee has some significant work ahead as it prepares a list of recommended projects to the mayor and commission.

The mayor and commission will make a final decision later this year on the projects that will appear on the referendum, and there will be opportunities for public input during that process.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Beechuk and Alderman said their request for $250,000 in funding for art for transportation-related projects could help fund initiatives such as providing wayfinding signage for the county’s multiple-use greenway and rail-trail projects.

Additionally, they noted, the money could help continue the “art shelter” program, and might also be used to enhance the appearance of the county’s gateways — corridors like Atlanta Highway and Lexington Road that bring people into the community.

Overall, Beechuk told the committee, the ACAC sees its request as an avenue to “be able to enhance other projects.”

“We want to make that [transportation infrastructure projects] a little more lively,” Beechuk said. “We want to bring ‘Athens’ into that … to add on to some of the infrastructure that y’all are looking at.”

With regard to the gateway corridors specifically, Beechuk noted that improving the aesthetics of those roadways has been a perennial topic for discussion.

“It’s been discussed over and over,” Beechuk said, expressing a general vision that funding such as the TSPLOST dollars being sought by the ACAC could mean “having continual art along” those corridors.

There was some sentiment at the advisory committee meeeting that the ACAC might not be asking for enough of the projected TSPLOST proceeds to make much of a difference in the aesthetics of new transportation infrastructure.

Beechuk told the panel that the ACAC was not trying to claim an outsize portion of the TSPLOST proceeds, but was looking to add to whatever the list of final projects might be “without putting our hand out there too far.”

The advisory committee will be reviewing project proposals in meetings over the next few weeks, and could start conducting “straw polls” on committee preferences in mid-April as it begins to narrow the proposals to fit the funding projected to be available from the TSPLOST.

 

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