City Council Looks to Ensure Good Portion of Public Art Money Goes to Local Artists



The Memphis City Council began discussion of an ordinance that would ensure a set percentage of public art funds are spent on local and minority artists.

Funds were pulled from the city’s UrbanArt Commission (UAC) during budget season last year after then-council member, now chairman Berlin Boyd expressed concerns over the amount of money spent to bring in out-of-town artists, instead of local artists.

Boyd said he’s “sick and tired" of quasi-government entities and agencies, funded in part by public money, feeling as though the council has no authority to oversee them.

The proposed ordinance would require that 60 percent of project dollars each year be awarded to local artists, as well as minority- and/or women-owned enterprises.

However, executive director of UAC, Lauren Kennedy said though it can be done, it will take significant work and commitment to bring more local artists into the public arts space.

The new legislation also puts parameters in place to make the program more transparent. One parameter  would allow the public to attend artist selection committee meetings, as Boyd said “it’s fair to let the public see how and where their dollars are being spent.”

Boyd, as well as council members Patrice Robinson and Joe Brown expressed additional concerns over some of the artwork going up in the city, citing a grim reaper mural near Chelsea.

Boyd said that type of art shouldn’t be in African-American neighborhoods, calling the mural “rude.”

Robinson said it would be nice if there was a monitoring process to ensure that “rather than painting despicable objects on buildings,” making sure the art is tasteful. But, Kennedy told the council that the UAC had no part in the grim reaper mural and other art around the city that although are on public buildings, are not funded by public dollars.

The full council will vote on the ordinance at its next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

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