City art scene hampered by pandemic, plans continue
By John McCracken
GREEN BAY – Laura Schley is the only paid staff member at the City of Green Bay’s Public Art Commission (GBPAC), a division of the community and economic development department.
A single full-time employee devoted to public arts in Wisconsin’s third largest city is not uncommon.
Wisconsin provides less state support for pubic art than its neighboring Midwest states and ranks last among all U.S. states, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.
Value added by arts and cultural activities to Wisconsin’s economy was $10.1 billion in 2017, which was a 44 percent increase from $7 billion in 2001 in non-inflation-adjusted dollars, according to a report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
Kent Hutchison, local artist and a founding member of the commission, said the Green Bay arts community came into the year with momentum, but the COVID-19 pandemic has halted plans and forced innovation.
Hutchison said artists are being adaptive and finding new solutions, but they won’t be making money like they used to.
Nearly 34 percent of those employed in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector in Wisconsin filed initial claims for unemployment between March 15 and July 5, the third highest sector behind only food services (39.1 percent) and manufacturing (37.1 percent) according to WPF.
“It doesn’t look good and I don’t have a whole lot of solutions, which is super frustrating,” Hutchison said.
In an effort to boost the creative economy, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation recently awarded funds throughout the state alongside Arts Wisconsin.
Mosaic Arts, a Green Bay-based arts advocacy non-profit organization, awarded WEDC funds to the Griffon’s String Ensemble to teach local students at several Green Bay public schools.
Gov. Tony Evers recently awarded $15 million federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to provide relief to music, visual art, live performances and other cultural organizations.
Despite support for organizations, Hutchison expressed frustration with the process of getting funds as an individual artist.
“If we’re going to get out of this, we need to get funds into the pockets of artists quickly,” he said, “without the red tape.”
With an uncertain future and colder months approaching, the resounding response from both Schley and Hutchison has been to invest in artists at any avenue.
“People definitely have a responsibility to continue to pay for our arts culture,” Hutchison said.
The City of Green Bay has taken up the charge, as GBAPC advances visual and performing arts in the city through financial support, such as grants and outreach.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Schley said public engagement with city art has been a source of relief for many residents.
“The beauty of public art is that it is accessible to anyone,” she said.
Earlier in the year, GBPAC developed a virtual map to showcase local murals and installations for residents to track down and spend time outside during safer-at-home orders.
The final projects of the year include a collaborative project with the city’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department celebrating its 100-year anniversary.
In addition to the 100 trees planted in Danz Park, a paved pathway with poetry inscriptions and custom benches are planned for the area now known as Green Bay Parks Century Grove.
Schley said she anticipates a sculpture project planned for Olde North Community Garden, as well as a large-scale jellyfish model made of recyclable materials, will inhabit Adams Street by the end of the year.
According to the 2021 city budget, GBPAC provided three grants to artists for public art projects this year and plans to update the city’s digital public art map and increase interactive opportunities for the public in 2021.
Schley said GBPAC has been allocated $25,000 for new projects in Green Bay going into 2021, but there is no commitment to what those projects will look like right now.
GBPAC is not funded through the city’s tax levy.
It was initially funded through leftover funds through the city’s stadium tax in 2017.
Currently, it receives funding through private donations, development block grants, and a measure requiring 1 percent of new development property’s estimated value devoted to a public art installation.
One major hit to GBPAC’s funding has been a lack of private businesses commissioning art installations, but the development and construction boom during the pandemic is paving the way for arts funding in the future.
Schley said GBPAC has seen new development plans for further down the road.
She points toward the growth of the city and needs for housing developments being potential funding opportunities for GBPAC.