When speaking for the record, everyone with a stake in the Phillips Gateway remains fully behind the project--politicians, commissioners, and private donors alike. One of Green's many financial supporters, though, showed considerably less enthusiasm after requesting confidentiality. "It has been a very frustrating project from our perspective," says the source. "It seemed to have the life of Job. It's been a little hard to feel real clear where's fiction, where's fact, and where's reality with this project."
According to a project overview Green compiled this year for her funders, the gateway's only income in 1998 was from the state--$93,000 from the two-year allocation. Four artist-mentors were paid almost $45,000. During that time nine kids--a tad more than two kids per mentor, in other words--were collectively paid a little more than $8,100 for work done during the main season, which over the years has generally run from May through October. Construction and installation costs amounted to less than $1,000. Project manager Sohn received $12,000. Green collected $17,000. The balance went for administration and fundraising, photodocumentation, and workshop-related costs, including a workshop assistant. More telling, perhaps, is the fact that all that money didn't yield much in the way of concrete results: In 1998 the only significant work done at Peavey Park entailed the tiling of a single bench.
In that same report, Green noted that between 1992 and the end of 1998, she had raised $533,859.50 for the gateway, some two-thirds of which came from public sources. Add to that the remainder of the state grant paid out in 1999--a little more than $29,000--plus the additional money Green now says is required for the finishing touches, and the total budget registers just a few dollars under $593,000. (That doesn't take into account the value of volunteer time or donated materials, which a 1995 Star Tribune story pegged at $250,000, bumping the bottom line up to nearly $843,000.)
Where did all the money go?
A fair chunk went to Rafala Green. Through the end of 1998, personnel costs topped $324,000, of which Green collected more than $63,000 as the artist in charge. The project's managers--first Partners Three Company, later Sohn individually--received more than $66,000. Upward of $104,000 went to pay 20 artist-mentors. The 85 kids who helped lay the walkway and build four benches split a little over $76,000.
Sohn, who has been in the construction business for 20 years and is increasingly involved in nonprofit projects, defends the spending. "If I was under the impression that people were working on this full time, 50 weeks a year, then I would have some serious questions, but that's not the case," she asserts. "I am proud of this, and I don't have qualms about how this money was spent. I see it as an investment."
When asked why so much has been spent on what was initially presented as a $30,000 artistic symbol of renewal in Phillips, Rafala Green prefers to talk about the kids and the neighbors who were involved in creating the installation, not about the money. "It's a distraction," she says, dismissing the question. "That annoys me. It wasn't about making a killing."
Beyond payroll, Green spent about $90,000 on the gateway's actual construction, installation, and material costs--three times as much as the total amount the MAC initially approved for the entire project. And there was the $30,000 for moving and storage back in 1993--an expense that could have been avoided had the original timetable been honored. More than $47,000 was spent on workshop-related costs (including utilities and insurance) and $15,000 paid for two school residencies.
One budget item absent at the outset also seems worthy of note: For thousands of photos taken at the park corner during the past seven years, Green has spent a total of $16,250--or more than half the project's entire original 1992 budget.
On a recent evening, at the corner of Franklin and Chicago, two men withering in the summer heat sit down for a moment's rest on one of the Phillips gateway's very expensive, very photogenic benches. One flicks a cigarette into the weeds around the walk, adding to the already sizable pile of extinguished butts. The other shades his eyes with a callused hand, gazing up at the dream catcher, on which a parched vine hangs quietly dying. Any guesses on how much this work of art cost? "Oh, I'd figure on maybe a thousand, two thousand," one of the men answers. Higher. "Five?" Higher. "Ten?" Higher. At that his friend lets out a breath and asks, "For real, how much?" Nearly $600,000.
"Damn," he replies. "You know what you could do with that kind of money?"
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Mississippi River, in a residential garage in Prospect Park, Green's teen workforce has dwindled to just five kids, working for eight dollars an hour. Iris Hall, a 19-year-old who has been toiling on the gateway project off and on for years, is busy there, fitting colored tiles into a design on a makeshift workbench. As she leans over the pieces to fiddle with the pattern, she quietly muses, "I like doing it because I like puzzles. It's like a puzzle to me."