The 40th anniversary of Albuquerque’s 1 percent for Art is definitely an event to celebrate. All the artists who have received commissions and the public who have enjoyed their city’s ambience as a result of this program are particularly appreciative. But few know the real history of the 1 percent and the unsung community leaders who championed this effort.
In 1978, when Albuquerque had a population of 332,000 and the city was in the fourth year of council/mayor governance, a group of local artists led by Dorothy Harroun met with City Councillor Alan Reed to discuss starting a public arts program.
Harroun, a local artist now living in Santa Fe, had been researching other cities like Seattle and Miami to learn about their arts programs. The artist group felt that using a percentage of public funds connected with building projects could inject enough money into a program to provide a continuous flow of funds and make Albuquerque a real arts hub. Since Reed’s father had been an artist, he was especially interested in this proposal.
With the help of City Council staff and Harroun, Reed drew up an ordinance to dedicate 1 percent of all general obligation bonds to be used for art and to authorize an arts board to manage the selection and placement of projects. Community volunteers appointed by the mayor and city councilors were to make those decisions with the administrative help of city personnel.
As the ordinance continued through the council approval process, other councillors signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. When the vote was taken, the ordinance passed with little opposition. Mayor David Rusk then signed it.
There had been many arts groups lobbying for the passage, and Albuquerque United Artists had a gallery on Central at that time and held a city celebration at the gallery to mark the beginning of Albuquerque’s official commitment to public art.
Ed Vega, a multimedia artist, made individual portraits of the primary city councilors who sponsored the ordinance and hung them in the gallery.
Since that time 1,000 public art projects have been installed, which have added to the city’s economy and helped support many artists. Albuquerque has flourished as an arts destination. When enjoying our unique city, it is important to remember the people who put time, effort and heart into art. On the City Council at the time were Sandy Eastham, Jim Delaney, Marion Cotrell, Pat Baca, Mel Aragon, Joe Abeyta, Tom Hoover, Jo Macaleese and Reed.
Their legacy lives on in the art of our city.