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The Fiscal Power of Public Art

The upcoming public art project by artist Olafur Eliasson that will place free-standing waterfalls in the waters around New York City highlights the power public art has to generate economic development and revenue for cities.

"For a city, of course, success is often gauged in more tangible terms: Public-art projects can generate an incredible amount of community revenue."

"In 2005, for instance, the European artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude erected more than 7,500 saffron-colored nylon banners across Central Park for two weeks. According to Kate Levin, commissioner at New York's Department of Cultural Affairs, "The Gates" generated approximately $254 million."

"'New York City Waterfalls' is expected to bring New York roughly $55 million over three months – a figure based on tax revenues 'that the city would not get otherwise,' says Ms. Levin. The figure includes tourism-related spending and income from increased use of public transportation near the site."

"Eliasson and the city are also hoping to usher in long-term financial benefits that may be harder to quantify. Consider: The stretch of Manhattan abutting the East River has historically been thought less desirable than the opposite bank of the island. A waterfall constructed on Pier 35, near Rutgers St., will, Eliasson hopes, prod visitors to contemplate the developmental viability of the area."

Full Story: Turning cities into art galleries

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