Nashville Discovers It Underfunded Its Public Art Program | Nashville Public Radio

Nashville Discovers It Underfunded Its Public Art Program

Jun 12, 2019

A recent Metro audit has discovered that Nashville has been underfunding its public art program. To make up for it, Metro Arts will soon receive a back payment that can be put toward new sculptures and other large-scale installations.

The discovery came out of a routine review of finances, leading to some surprising news from the auditor for Metro Arts Executive Director Caroline Vincent.

“One day he just said, ‘Oh by the way, I found some additional funding in this area.’ So of course, that’s always good news to hear, especially when we’re going through an audit,” Vincent said.

The way public art funding works in Nashville is that whenever Metro does capital spending projects — such as a new building, park, library, or significant renovation — it sets aside 1% of the budget for use on public art.

But the audit found that some capital projects weren’t counted toward the art calculation in fiscal year 2017. So the public art fund is owed $363,000 by the city.

Vincent has also asked that other fiscal years be reviewed, in case other anomalies could benefit Metro Arts.

This funding arrangement started with a Metro Council ordinance in 2000 and has led to a monumental change for public art, Vincent said.  

“If you look at just the sheer numbers, we started out with zero public art, really.”  

The 2007 sculpture Ghost Ballet was the first in Nashville to be funded through its Percent For Public Art Fund, which has since helped commission more than 50 works.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN

The first piece funded in this way was Ghost Ballet at the riverfront, and Metro has since commissioned more than 50 pieces through this method. Those include Light Meander at the riverfront, the Stix roundabout and artworks at the Southeast Branch Library and the new Madison Community Center.

The audit shows the public art fund has been carrying a balance of around $7 million. Metro Arts has spent at least $500,000 per year in recent years.

The Metro Finance department says the timing of the payment to Metro Arts is still being worked out.

Vincent said one of the first uses will be to expand the amount of artwork coming to the Nashville Fairgrounds.