The Newport Beach City Council is holding off on finalizing the award of a $500,000 state grant to enhance the Civic Center Park sculpture garden so it can make a closer read of the terms and conditions of the funding.
City staff that administers arts programming recommended accepting the grant but went before the council on Tuesday divided with the resident-led Arts Commission on a timeline for spending the money.
The council suggested there are more pressing social issues demanding money, though it stopped short of rejecting the grant.
Mayor Diane Dixon said she wants to see more private support for the arts, which can be rallied through the nonprofit Newport Beach Arts Foundation, as the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation does for literacy projects.
City leaders are looking for every dollar they can to address homelessness, a burgeoning issue in Newport the past few months, Dixon said.
“These are costs we never budgeted for on homelessness,” she said before the council voted to delay finishing the city’s application for the grant money. “I know that’s not necessarily the issue on hand right now, but we’re very mindful of the demands on our general fund today.”
Arts Commission Chairwoman Arlene Greer said the funding would give the sculpture garden much-needed momentum. More money means more art pieces on display, which can make the park more attractive to future funders.
The garden, which opened in 2014, was designed to have 34 handpicked modern works on display. It currently has about 20, which rotate in and out 10 at a time on two-year, alternating schedules. It was last refreshed in June.
Under a timeline preferred by the commission, there would be a window in which 30 pieces would be on display, making the garden ripe for funders’ attention.
Greer said a spur in fundraising also could enable the commission to place a monument sign for the outdoor museum at the corner of Avocado Avenue and San Miguel Drive.
Fundraising has long been a challenge for local public art, which relies on a mix of public and private dollars.
“We always seem to be up here asking for money, and we would love to be able to sustain ourselves,” Greer said. “We would be able to garner the attention that we need out in the community to be able to provide us with the resources to move forward and continue to fundraise.”
The grant is part of a $14.5-million package that Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) secured this year for her 74th Assembly District, which includes all or parts of Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach, plus Irvine and Laguna Woods. Other awards were earmarked for trail restoration at Bluff Top Park in Huntington Beach, the children’s playground and community stage at Costa Mesa’s Lions Park and the restoration of 17 historic cottages at Crystal Cove.
Grant projects must be completed by the end of 2021. To meet that requirement, Newport city staff suggests using the money to reimburse the city the $135,000 it has committed for the fifth phase of the sculpture exhibit planned to open next year, fund the $135,000 sixth phase the following year, enhance educational programming for school groups to make field trips to the garden and refurbish the footpath that connects the artworks.
The Arts Commission, however, wants to spend the money on the sixth and seventh phases, in addition to the educational programming and path rehabilitation.
Councilman Kevin Muldoon said that to make sure there are no hidden costs, the council should put off a decision until its Oct. 22 meeting.
“We don’t want to reject funds that our residents paid for. Been there, done that,” he said, referring to a short-lived 2017 attempt to reject road repair funds generated by the most recent gas tax.
But he said that though he appreciates the Arts Commission’s efforts, crime, homelessness and unfunded pension liabilities are greater demands than the arts.