Art buys with public money spark Kettering protest

A group of Kettering residents have launched a protest over the city using taxpayer money to purchase art that will be displayed in the Government Center.

Ron Alban, who also led the repeal of Ohio’s estate tax and was part of the group that spearheaded charter amendments to limit salaries and terms in office for the city’s elected officials in 2012, suggested putting a resolution on the May 2014 ballot.

Alban said the city should find out what voters think about spending “hard-working Kettering taxpayers’ money on artwork to adorn the interior of the government center, primarily for the benefit of the center’s occupants.”

He expressed “no doubt that the majority of them will see this as a foolish expenditure of money. There are higher priorities such as road repairs and infrastructure. Most Kettering residents will never see the art, so what’s the point?”

Council members Ashley Webb and Rob Scott defended the acquisition of paintings, photographs and other works by local and regional artists that are being mounted in in lobbies, offices and meeting rooms of the north and south city buildings on Shroyer Road.

City Council approved the $57,000 expenditure unanimously.

Webb suggested looking at the debate from the perspective of taking a vacation.

“None of us has to take one. We could just work every day. But taking a vacation may recharge us and allow us to do better work when we return. Artwork provides a mini-vacation,” he said.

“I can’t afford $1,000 to put a painting in my home, or perhaps I could, but my family might have other priorities. That’s one more reason why every resident should be pleased that we live in a community where we can take advantage of art in our public places.”

Scott said his idea of art “is dogs playing poker” and “I would personally never buy this for myself. But it’s been proven that art is one of the aspects that attract new businesses and residents to a community. This may not be on the level of the U.S. Capitol or the White House, but this is a public facility.”

Another advantage “is that this is the work of local artists,” Scott said. “It’s going to add value to our community. It’s for the benefit of the community.”

John Huheey, another activist in the Citizens for a Better Kettering group, urged city officials to “pay a little more attention to taxpayers like me who consider this a frivolous or extravagant expenditure.”

Lisa Crosley suggested that “while spending 1 percent of capital improvements for public art may be an honorable goal, expenditures should be made in such a way as to benefit the greatest number of citizens in the largest number of ways.”

Mayor Don Patterson, who described himself as “a business guy, not an arts guy,” said the complaint about buying art is like protests over other city expenses that may seem to be for a certain segment of the community.

“If you don’t play, you may not be happy that we spend $20,000 on a tennis court. What about paying for park benches? I can’t remember the last time I sat down when visiting one of our parks, and I visit a lot of them. But others will really appreciate those benches. All of this adds up to make this great community.”

Michael Barnett, who is running against Patterson for mayor on the Nov. 5 ballot, wondered “how the city can buy paintings when it can’t pave all of the streets that need to be repaired. Did someone die and leave them a pile of money to do this?”

Kettering-born photographer Richard Malagorski, one of the artists whose work has been purchased,took his first photo class at the former Fairmont East High School. “I am glad to be part of this collection.” He said the income will allow him to repair the bellows of a century-old camera he uses to create his panoramic images.

Shayna McConville, cultural arts manager, said the support for the arts “is part of Kettering’s legacy of optimism and looking forward. The works we have already installed have made the government center a healthier and happier place. These works are an investment. They are going to become part of this city.”

She said a 2010 survey of residents showed strong support for city arts programs.