Reader Allen Hemphill added his two cents to our public art conversation:

How does “public art” fit with a concept that government should do what the people cannot do for themselves?

Of course, it doesn’t fit at all — and not only does it not fit, but “art” itself is so subjective as to defy definition.

Under the current economic circumstances, where pot-holes are our current form of “public art” — perhaps those should be addressed first.

“Public art” would not exist absent politicians desires to spread other people’s money as widely as possible in order to garner political support, and in any triage of government funding would rank slightly below public toilets on hiking trails.

I am surprised the subject is even discussed — if put to a vote of the people whose money is being squandered, “public art” wouldn’t even get Honorable Mention in the bottom quartile!

(Hemphill, if it wasn’t obvious, labels himself a Libertarian.)

Might not be a need for hypothetical questions on the voter sentiment Hemphill describes. The city of San Diego, at least, did ask people what they thought about how the city spends money in a survey earlier this year.

The city hired a firm to survey 600 random city residents by phone, asking them how essential they feel are the things the city spends money on.

The surveyed residents answered based on a scale of one (not essential) to four (absolutely essential). (Go to page three of the survey for the beginning of the results.)

“Arts and cultural programs” ranked second from last, receiving a mean score of 2.8 when all 600 responses were tallied. And 23 percent of responders ranked arts and cultural programs a ‘4,’ or absolutely essential.

Though it’s not the only local government engaged in buying public art, the city of San Diego’s survey results seem to suggest that Hemphill is right.

Beyond voting whether the service is essential or not, the people answering the survey appeared quite satisfied with the city’s arts and culture programs themselves, ranking them near the top of a list of 18 services.

Please contact Kelly Bennett directly at or 619.325.0531 and follow her on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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