Last month, an 11-foot-tall bronze sculpture of Standing Bear was unveiled on Centennial Mall. In the spring, five abstract granite sculptures were placed in Densmore Park. In the summer, “Wind Sculpture III,” a brightly colored fiberglass sculpture, was added to a plaza next to the Sheldon Museum of Art.
All three are publicly owned -- and each adds to the aesthetics of the Capital City and its nationally noted collection of outdoor sculpture.
Those pieces share another element. None were paid for with tax dollars. The Standing Bear sculpture was funded by the foundation of Lincoln native Donald Campbell, the granite sculptures were loaned to the city by artist Jim Huntington via the Lincoln Partners for Public Art Development and Yinka Shonibare’s piece was purchased by the Sheldon using donated funds.
That is the case with the vast majority of the millions of dollars worth of publicly-owned art in the city, including pieces by prominent sculptors like Richard Serra’s “Greenpoint” and “Torn Notebook,” the Claes Oldenburg-Coosje van Bruggen sculpture at 12th and Q streets.
Because the art is privately funded, it can’t be criticized as a “waste of tax dollars” by those who see themselves as watchdogs for taxpayers.
Two recent public art acquisitions have been tax funded. “Harvest” -- the 45-foot-high, nearly $1 million monumental sculpture outside Pinnacle Bank Arena -- and “Candy Box” in the arena lobby were funded with arena bonds and repaid using the arena tax.
The $1.34 million used to fund the sculptures less than 1 percent of the $186 million cost of the arena and the attached parking garage.
While Lincoln has no such requirement, the state of Nebraska has a long-standing law requiring 1 percent of construction costs for new or remodeled buildings to go to art -- a recognition that art is an important element in public buildings, carried over in spirit by the city.
For Mayor Chris Beutler, who has seen some 35 pieces of art acquired by the city during his administration, the public art development is more than just art for art’s sake. It is a tool for economic development and increasing tourism.
“We don’t have an ocean,” Beutler told the Journal Star. “We don’t have big rivers winding through our downtown. We don’t have mountains. So in a very real sense the creativity of our built environment is more important than in places that have natural attractions. It is almost essential that this city be more complete and more aesthetically pleasing than others to compete with cities that have natural amenities.”
Along with the internationally acclaimed Sheldon collection, the state’s contribution, including the Capitol and its artwork, the city’s public art program has done just that, putting Lincoln on the map for its outdoor sculpture.