2 Gop Bills Aim To Brush Out Funds For Public Artwork -- Opposition Expected In Senate

OLYMPIA - They are supposed to be the ghosts of those who've attended Lincoln High School before.

A blanched plaster face of an Asian-American girl smiles out of the wall alongside the main stairwell - an apparition.

No body. Just a plaster hand a foot below her face, clutching a book.

Across from her, a disembodied, white plaster face with African-American features appears to be headed down the stairs. At least his sneakers are.

Interesting, like the grove of 7-foot steel skeleton keys outside, supposed to symbolize the unlocking and discovering of learning.

But the cost to state taxpayers came to $88,000 when the artwork was included in the school's remodeling two years ago.

Last year, the state spent nearly $500,000 to adorn new schools with public art. It spent $218,000 for a bronze coyote, several sculptures and other pieces of art when it built the Airway Heights Corrections Center in Spokane County two years ago.

At a time when the public seems to be more concerned with the tangible - like tax bills and prison bars - than the sublime, some legislators question buying art with tax dollars.

State law now requires that 5 cents out of every $10 spent to build schools, prisons and such state buildings as the Washington State Convention and Trade Center be set aside for public art at the buildings.

Two Republican bills passed out of House committees last week would eliminate art funding for new schools and prisons.

HB 1135, which would cut arts funding from new prisons, passed the House Capital Budget Committee last week. HB 1690, which would cut the funding from schools, passed the House Education Committee. Both are being considered by the House Rules Committee and are expected to pass the full House shortly.

They are expected to run into opposition in the Senate, however, where the chairwoman of the Ways and Means committee - Sen. Nita Rinehart, D-Seattle - declined to give a similar bill a hearing. Rinehart called the bills "a terrible idea."

Several other bills that would have cut arts funding - including one that would have abolished the state Arts Commission - have failed in Olympia.

But to the bills' sponsor, Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Colville, the concern is the bottom line. The prison money is the equivalent of building space for two more prisoners, and the schools money could have been better used to help a school district pay for renovations, she said.

"We do have art classes in the schools," McMorris said, "and there's nothing to say they can't use their operating money for art if they think they really need it."

People who want art funding continued see things differently.

Those who encounter the artwork - whether in schools or in prison - are exposed to another world, said Karen Kamara Gose, executive director of the Washington State Arts Commission.

"Seeing it in their daily lives can be a stimulating experience. It can be exciting," she said. "It might lead you down a more interesting path."