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Henry Instructs City Officials To Enforce 1% For Art Law, On The Books Since 1964

Miki Jourdan/Flickr
A mural of saxophonist Charlie Parker at the Baltimore Farmers' Market & Bazaar. On Tuesday, City Comptroller Bill Henry said he has instructed officials to fully enforce a 1964 law that calls for 1% of city construction costs to go toward public art.

When Baltimore lawmakers first passed the 1% For Art law in 1964, they mandated that city agencies set aside at least 1% of costs for every construction project for public artwork. But in practice, only a few city agencies have done so, Comptroller Bill Henry said Tuesday.

“I don't know how many years that's been going on,” Henry said. He has announced new measures to fully enforce the law, including a directive for the Department of Audits to review all construction projects before the Board of Estimates for compliance with the program.

"Specifically, they will be looking for both the amount allocated for public art and a description of the project as approved by the Public Art Commission, and we also encourage all agencies to utilize local artists for each project,” Henry said.

The 1% For Art law mandates that city agencies send 1% of their construction costs to the Baltimore Office of Promotion of the Arts each year. In 2019, BOPA invoiced city agencies nearly $700,000 after failing to receive payment — and the office is still trying to collect it.

According to city documents, the Department of Public Works is in the process of paying $600,000. The Department of General Services paid an invoice of $72,000, while the Department of Recreation and Parks still owes around $4,000. The Department of Transportation, which has a total fiscal year 2019 budget of around $200 million, is still working out the amount owed to BOPA.

Henry attributed the lack of payments to the “complex” payment process of the law, which was most recently tweaked in 2007. Agencies are supposed to cut BOPA a check from each construction project, but in practice, some agencies instead send the office yearly, lump sum payments in arrears as a workaround to the more rigorous process dictated by law.

“Apparently, the workaround stopped working, and we still don't know what exactly happened or who exactly stopped it,” Henry said. “That's a frighteningly fuzzy answer.”

Going forward, Henry said, his office will ensure that the lawful payment process is followed — unless that process is officially changed. “I won't be surprised if one of the things that comes out of this is revisiting the way the law is set up,” he said.

Henry said he hopes to begin auditing construction projects for their adherence to the law as early as the May 1st Board of Estimates meeting. “If it turns out that that's going to be too difficult logistically, we may push it back a meeting or two,” he said.

Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who sponsored a Tuesday hearing on the law and recently called for Mayor Brandon Scott to create a pandemic relief fund for city artists, said he’s looking forward to seeing city officials enforce a law that has been on the books for decades.

"Effectively managing the 1% for Art is essential to supporting our local artists, many of whom have been locked out of government aid during the pandemic," the Democrat said.