For Art's Sake!

What takes seven years to build, costs nearly $600,000, and looks like a boondoggle?

It wasn't long till Green was back before the Minneapolis Arts Commission seeking more funding. Her pitch? The Phillips gateway was different from other gateways. The involvement of more kids from the neighborhood than she'd planned on had made the project more costly. And, Green argued, a surprising amount of enthusiasm had sprung up around Phillips: Folks wanted to see the thing come to fruition.

Kicking in another round of funding wasn't unheard of for the commission. The first gateway to be completed, in downtown's Elliot Park, had relied on a $13,000 boost from the city over and above its initial $35,000 allotment. (The rest of the gateways around the city have come in right on or below budget; these days the cap on MAC funding for gateways is $50,000.) But the projects were generally conceived as art installations, not employment opportunities.

On May 12, 1993, the MAC weighed the matter of pumping additional cash into the park corner. Ultimately, commissioners seemed to share Green's excitement: It was, they agreed, a unique program meant to inspire creativity in young people. So strongly, in fact, did they believe in it that they resolved to support Green at unprecedented levels. On a 7-3 vote the MAC approved a new budget of $93,593.74 for the project--a hike of more than $63,000.

Rafala Green, the artist in charge, says the extraordinary time and money sunk into her public art installation is "just what it took"
David Kern
Rafala Green, the artist in charge, says the extraordinary time and money sunk into her public art installation is "just what it took"

Still, several who were in attendance that day expressed concern that Green's gateway had already grown too unwieldy and looked as if it were headed for trouble. Donna Norberg, for one, voted against the supplement. She liked the concept but, she says now, believed that it was "unfair" to fund one gateway in such a lopsided manner. Toby Rapson, another commission member, also voted nay. "There seemed to be some expectation on the artist's behalf that the project just get funded to completion," he recalls today, "irrespective of how much it was going to cost."

Fueled by the infusion, the gateway rolled on. A "project status report" composed by Green and her project manager in June 1993 outlined where all the money had gone to date: $1,992 to an architectural firm for putting together a site plan (original budget: $200 for "working architectural drawings"); $4,686 for fabricating steel bench supports (original budget: $100 for a single reinforcement bar); workshop assistants had been paid $500 each for their help (original budget: zip).

Across the board, costs were substantially in excess of what had been outlined, and additional money was being funneled to unforeseen expenses. The original budget had called for spending $2,500 on ceramic tile; the report showed that Green instead spent $6,175 (for tile made in Italy), plus another $870 to have it shipped from a distributor in Portland, Oregon. The bill for concrete work on the plaza had amounted to nearly $15,000; the budget called for $400. The cost of fabricating the entryway had been set at $5,000; Green's summary revealed that she had paid out nearly $8,000 to a local contractor for the work.

Green had no experience in overseeing what the Phillips gateway was becoming: a complicated, costly, and unpredictable construction project. She began soliciting additional funding from private corporations and sources, including the Honeywell Foundation and the Minneapolis Foundation, to supplement her ballooning budget. In addition, as the gateway grew, the MAC thought it might be best to retain a project manager, Partners Three Company, to oversee the nuts and bolts. That meant, of course, that Partners Three needed money, too: In June 1993 their bill for construction management stood at $4,900--another line item that had been nowhere in sight in the original budget.

It was at about this time that Green decided to link her installation to classrooms around Phillips, including a ten-week residency she and other mentor-artists conducted at Four Winds School, which sits on the southeast corner of Peavey Park. A $10,000 grant from the city's Minneapolis Community Development Agency paid for that.

By the end of the 1993 season, the gateway was nowhere near completion, and Green's tenancy agreement at the Applebaum's space was running out. The four concrete benches were far from being ready for placement at the site; they, along with the workshop's contents, wound up being moved into storage for the winter, on semitrailers in a locked loading dock. The price tag for that? Close to $30,000.

 

 

The following spring Green came before the arts commission once again. She updated members and presented a slide show to illustrate the installation's progress. The Phillips gateway had just scored another $70,000 in city money, this time through the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), a fund that makes dollars raised through tax-increment financing available for projects thought to be deserving by neighborhood groups (in this case the now-defunct People of Phillips). The NRP's policy board had approved the grant; the Minneapolis City Council would soon bestow its rubber stamp on the proposal.

In her request to the NRP, Green had stated that she needed more cash in order to pay workers and secure another workshop. An attached budget called for $16,000 to lease the space (plus utilities and insurance), $10,000 for materials and supplies (Green didn't specify for what), $23,000 to pay kids, and $21,000 for artist-mentors, the project manager, a workshop assistant, and Green. "While remaining true to the intent of the original proposal," Green aptly noted in her proposal, "the Phillips Gateway Project has evolved into a unique life of its own."

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