The Langley Arts Commission this week proposed the city council approve a measure to have taxpayers foot the bill for insuring temporary public art.
Perhaps we’re being philistines here, but picking up the tab for private artists who are already benefiting from displaying their works in prominent public locations is a form of government subsidization and therefore an inappropriate use of public funds. It would far better if the arts commission raised the funds itself to cover the cost.
The temporary public art program began a few years ago with the formation of the arts commission. Both were beneficial additions to Langley, a town that’s heavily supportive and increasingly defined by the arts.
The program works by allowing artists to display their works, free of charge, in locations around the city for a period of 18 months. If it sells, the city gets 20 percent of the proceeds. If it doesn’t, the commission puts out a call of new pieces.
Frank Rose, chairman of the arts commission, argues that artists can’t afford to buy insurance themselves and that picking up the tab isn’t a subsidy because public art enriches Langley and is a draw for visitors.
“The government gains, and the community gains from it,” he said.
We agree that the temporary art program is a great program and that Langley is better for it. But if artists are selling their work, then they’re in business and it’s not the job of taxpayers to pay their bills. Other cities may do so, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good practice or mean there aren’t better ways to safeguard temporary public art works.
This issue came about suddenly and it’s not unreasonable for Langley to try and help with the cost of the project that brought the issue to light so it can make the scheduled Aug. 18 debut, but in the future the arts commission should be responsible for funding insurance for privately owned artwork. Given the community’s great love of the arts, we suspect it would have no trouble doing so.