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Public art: Athens, Ga., weighs spending $250,000 to beautify jail

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In a time of four-day school weeks, furloughs, layoffs and other nationwide instances of civic belt-tightening, the consolidated government of Athens-Clarke County, Ga., is pondering whether it makes sense to spend $250,000 on public art to beautify its new jail.

Reporter Blake Aued of the Athens Banner-Herald reported today that officials of the Athens-Clarke Commission are struggling with the idea of spending up to a quarter-million dollars for public art at the jail, a $74-million project expected to relieve a chronic overcrowding problem.

“I have no interest in spending $250,000 on public art at the jail,” Commissioner Mike Hamby said, according to the Banner-Herald story.

The article explains that the issue is complicated by the county’s standing policy of devoting up to 1% of construction budgets to art, at least when it comes to voter-approved civic projects. Voters approved the plan to build the new jail in November.

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Mayor Nancy Denson and others argued that the as-yet-undefined public art project would be for the benefit of employees of the jail, visitors and detainees ‘who haven’t been convicted of a crime,’ Aued reported.

The arts are a big deal in Athens, home to the University of Georgia and an avant-garde-rock sensibility that has historically been closely aligned with the local visual art scene.

The arts in recent years have also become a central lure in the city’s official marketing strategy: The local Chamber of Commerce boasts a downtown that ‘teems with art galleries, trendy shops, world-renowned nightclubs and distinctive dining. ... The vibe and energy that gave birth to R.E.M and the B-52’s is alive and well today!’

The commission is scheduled to make a decision on the jailhouse art plans on Nov. 1.

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-- Richard Fausset in Athens, Ga.


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