GUEST VIEW: Why public art matters

By Randy Ham

Since the adoption of the Percent for Art ordinance in February 2020, five projects have been funded through this ordinance: Fire Stations #6, & #9, the new animal control facility, OPD training facility, and the family wellness clinic. Combined, these projects total just $215,000, representing 0.00214% of the total $93,000,000 from the certificates of obligation that funded these construction projects (typically, in a construction project 15% of the budget is allocated for what’s called a contingency). Contingency is used when unexpected expenses come up due to work stoppage, weather, unforeseen challenges, etc.

Breaking it down further, that’s $1.86 per person based on 2020 census data of the total population of Odessa, TX. Less than a Starbucks coffee.

It should also be noted that capital costs cannot be used to fund salaries. Funding public art does not take away from human resources, nor does it affect the safety or durability of the construction itself.

So what does public art do, and why does it matter? The most important things that public art achieves is a sense of pride in a community. How many times have Odessans complained about the appearance of our home? “It’s so brown!” “It’s so flat!” “We need more color!” By investing in public art, the City is working to improve the aesthetics of the region, making it a place people can be proud to live, work and raise a family in.

This is also important to the recruitment of businesses and employees. Companies want to know that a city has pride in it’s environment and that is working to give employees a quality of life that will make them want to stay here and raise a family. Corporate recruiters often look at the overall attractiveness of a community when making recommendations on where to relocate.

Investing municipal dollars towards public art also encourages the private sector to do the same. For every two percent for art projects completed, there is one privately funded, private sector piece that is commissioned, like the Fist Basin corporate headquarters on 191 or the mural at Black Tulip Floral Design.

Within one year of the percent for art ordinance being adopted, Odessa was selected as the focus of an upcoming episode of the Amazon series, ‘The Story of Art in America.’ Over the course of three days in April of 2023, a camera crew traveled around Odessa and captured some of the most important pieces of public art. This episode will air worldwide in early 2024, giving the City much needed positive exposure.

Public Art is good for tourism. If you don’t think Odessa is a tourist destination, you are mistaken. Odessa/Midland is the region’s DFW. Our city is a hub for people traveling from Pecos, Monahans, Big Spring, and Ft. Stockton, just to name a few. Every one of those travelers is a tourist. While they may come for shopping, or health appointments, having cultural amenities will encourage them to stay one more day, eat one more meal, and spend one more dollar, adding to the economic benefit of Art.

Each year, the Arts & Culture sector adds $6,000,000 in economic activity to the City of Odessa. It is not the optional frosting on the cake of this city, it is the eggs, flour, and sugar. An investment in public art is paid back many times over, not only in the overall economic benefit, but in the municipal tax dollars that flow directly back to the City.

Public Art investment doesn’t just make aesthetic sense, it is economically beneficial to everyone.

Randy Ham is executive director of Odessa Arts.