Urban Politics #81: Increasing The City’s % For Art

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.



  • Increasing The City’s % For Art
  • History Of City’s % For Art
  • How It Works Today
  • Is There A Need For More Money?
  • Proposed Legislation

Increasing The City’s % For Art

Proposal to Increase City’s 1% For Art Allocation Public Hearing Set For February 8th, 2000, 5-6 PM in Council Chambers.

History Of City’s % For Art

The City’s % For Art Ordinance was at the national forefront of civic policy innovation when it passed in 1973 as municipal code 20.32. It stipulated that 1% of the City’s construction funds be designated to art in public places. Administration of the % For Art program was not identified in this ordinance. For the first few years of the program, General Fund monies were used to cover staff and program overhead costs. Presently, no General Fund monies are used for administration of the program.

How It Works Today

The % For Art account, called the Municipal Fund, absorbs the program’s administrative costs, leaving approximately .7 of a full % for actual art making. Neighborhood and City department requests for art can no longer be adequately served by a .7 % For Art program. And Seattle’s % For Art allocation has not kept pace with the increasing requests for funding neighborhood based cultural and art projects.

Today, Seattle’s program lags behind most other municipalities with similar % For Art programs. Fort Lauderdale & Dallas’s % For Art programs allocate 2.5%, San Jose 2%, while the Federal Transit Administration allows up to 5% for art to be applied to their projects. Even a non-world class suburb like Federal Way allocates 2% for the arts.

Is There A Need For More Money?

As density increases in Seattle, so does the need for mitigation. If we have less open space, then let’s use what we have in the most artistic manner possible. Over the past few years thirty-seven Seattle neighborhoods have completed plans for their future development. Almost all have included public art elements.

For the first time in the history of the % For Art program, neighborhoods are generating their own ideas for public art and specifically requesting them to be funded in their official neighborhood plans. Seattle residents are beginning to appreciate that public art adds social value to their communities.

Public art contributes to more pedestrian oriented business development, which encourages residents to walk to their destinations rather than drive, thereby reducing auto congestion. Criminal activity is also less likely to occur in neighborhoods where residents get to know one another by being outside rather than being locked in their homes or driving to locations.

Proposed Legislation

I want to raise the City’s % For Art allocation amount from the current 1% to 2%. The increase will be effective in 2001. The Libraries For All bond and the Community Centers levy would be excluded from the rate increase because they have already planned out their expenditures based on a 1% allocation.

The proposed increase will allow the City to be able to respond to neighborhood and City department requests for more public art. And I want to offer more opportunities for non-visual and visual artists to apply their creative thinking to our increasingly complex built-up environment.

Some Councilmembers have argued that this increase would be a burden to utility ratepayers. I am concerned about this issue and had city staff analyze the impact of this increase on utility rates. Their initial financial review shows that increasing the % For Art Program from 1% to 2% will total less than a dime a month for the next three years – for all five utilities combined. Consequently, I don’t see this concern as a valid reason to oppose the proposal.

If you have more questions, feel free to contact my legislative assistant Frank Video at frank.video@seattle.gov, or at 684-8849.

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