By Sophia Ricco and Aleeza Kazmi
Police sirens wail as a stream of cars flow down Main Street in Huntington, passing by the painting of a sailboat floating peacefully into a purple sunset. Created by William Low, the scene uses one of the Town’s traffic signal boxes as a canvas. The Traffic Signal Box Project is one of Huntington Public Art Initiative’s ventures, but the 10 other boxes scheduled to be painted this year may never be completed if the Town Board doesn’t renew the Initiative’s budget for 2018.
The town has 13 ongoing public art projects in the plan, but the Initiative has exhausted the $15,000 the town allocated to them in 2011 that has kept them afloat, in addition to outside funding, until now.
“Public art is one of those important creative tools in any municipality’s quiver to make a community a more desirable place to live and work, and it fits in with other kinds of quality of life initiatives,”John Coraor, Huntington director of cultural affairs, said. “People don’t like to live and work in a community that doesn’t have vital and thriving arts and culture, and public art is one component of that.
The Town Board has until Nov. 20th to approve the town budget, and at least three of the five board members need to vote in favor of allocating money to the Initiative in order for them to receive funding. There is no funding in the budget right now for the Public Art Initiative, but funding can come back if the initiative has specific requests, AJ Carter, the Town’s spokesperson, said.
Local arts programs face financial challenges at the federal level as well. The 2018 budget proposed by President Trump eliminated the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency that provides funding for art programs throughout the country. The NEA funding for the 2017 fiscal year was about $148 million, which is 0.02 percent of the federal budget and is not even enough money to build a mile of freeway expansion.
“The federal government making the decisions that is has made to withdraw funds and place them more towards the sciences and Math, it is a real shame, it is a tragedy for the Long Island arts,” Kevin McEvoy, director of The Atelier at Flowerfield, a Saint James based not-for-profit art studio, said.
Local art organizations that rely on government funding are becoming more reliant on private funding. The Huntington Arts Council, a not-for profit that provides art programs and services to local artists, will hold an auction on December 1st with donated art pieces to raise funds.
“We as a community can’t just sit back and rely on what we hope is going to be grants and funding from the government,” Chris Ann Ambery, an artist from Smithtown who donated a piece to the auction, said. “We have to continually get out there, be active, do events like this.”
The Huntington Arts Council currently receives a $300,000 grant from New York State that makes up one third of its budget. About $250,000 of the grant is distributed among arts organizations, leaving the Council with only $50,000 of their government funding for operation costs.
“Everything costs money and we do not want to not pay someone,” Kieran Johnson, business manager of the Council said. “Artists deserve pay just like everyone else.”
The primary goal of the Huntington Public Art Initiative is to create a better visual environment in the town, but public art also helps build the local economy.
“It makes the experience of people visiting a little bit more enjoyable, which makes them want to shop and visit restaurants,” Coraor said. “It’s part of the atmosphere that makes people want to live in those kinds of area and that helps to drive an economy, and that helps to build a community.”
For some Huntington residents, the public art is really just about making the town more beautiful.
“I think Huntington needs public art, it is desperate for it,” Devon Fox, a Huntington resident, said. “There are so many places that are just dying to be painted. We need art.”