Objections d’art: City, county buy two pieces for $1.735 million

Kenric Ward
Posted: Nov 03, 2016 10:15 AM
Objections d’art: City, county buy two pieces for $1.735 million

TIN IDOL: An aluminum sculpture is the latest art acquisition by Bexar County. “It is difficult, if not impossible, to justify spending scarce taxpayer dollars on luxury goods like large public art projects,” says an SMU economics professor.


In its latest high-priced art acquisition, Bexar County is spending $735,000 for an aluminum sculpture to adorn a creek-side park.

“Plethora” — by Cuban-born, Spain-based artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada — will be the artistic anchor of San Antonio’s San Pedro Creek project.

The county Commissioner’s Court approved the expenditure Tuesday to ensure completion of the piece by San Antonio’s tricentennial celebration in 2018.

“Plethora” will be funded through a certificate of obligation bond, which, unlike a standard bond issue, required no public approval. Interest charges are estimated at $60,000.

The $735,000 price tag didn’t impress Bob Martin, president of the Bexar County Homeowner-Taxpayer Association.

“For that, they could have bought four restrooms,” Martin quipped, in reference to the downtown street toilet recently installed by the city for $190,000.

Betty Bueche, director of Bexar Heritage and Parks, said Rodriguez-Gerada’s sculpture “will be a permanent inspiration and marker that will celebrate 300 years of history and cultural heritage, as well as guide us into another 300 years of Bexar County and San Antonio.”

She added that the $900,000 budget for public art installations along the creek is “less than 1 percent of the total project budget.”

“Plethora” follows the city of San Antonio’s purchase of “Liquid Crystal” to be the central object d’art at the newly expanded convention center.

SHINE A LIGHT: San Antonio paid $1 million for this “Liquid Crystal” tower.

“Liquid Crystal,” by Jason Brujes Studio in London, cost $1 million, paid from hotel room taxes that funded the convention center.

The “interactive tower” debuted to a less-than-enthralled audience last spring. Designed to project changing colors on its panels, “Liquid Crystal” glimmered feebly at its unveiling.

While spending big on public art, officials from Bexar County and the city of San Antonio complain that the Texas Legislature is short-changing them.

The city is currently assembling a record $750 million bond issue to fund public works projects, including roads and parks.

The county, meantime, has earmarked $125 million for San Pedro Creek. It remains unclear how the remainder of the work will be funded, or whether it will be added to the 2017 municipal bond package.

The anticipated cost of the two-mile creek “revitalization” rose from $175 million to $206.8 million last year.

Criticizing state government — which last month ordered across-the-board spending cuts at state agencies — County Judge Nelson Wolff said lawmakers in Austin left Bexar to pay $645 million in “unfunded mandates,” topped by $503 million in “lost Medicaid funding.”

Dean Stansel, an associate professor at Southern Methodist University’s O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom, said, “Public art projects are not a legitimate function of local government.”

“It is difficult, if not impossible, to justify spending scarce taxpayer dollars on luxury goods like large public art projects,” Stansel told Watchdog.org. “They are a luxury good that should be funded voluntarily through private sector transactions, not forcibly through taxation.”

Stansel added: “San Antonio already has a lot to offer. Squandering scarce taxpayer dollars on public art projects makes it harder to maintain the low-tax, business-friendly environment needed to compete with other areas for residents and businesses.”

Kenric Ward reports for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at kward@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @Kenricward.