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Pataki Wants To Give Hook to Money for School Artwork

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Art for art's sake won't cut it anymore if New York Gov. George E. Pataki has his way.

The first-term Republican is pushing legislation to stop New York City's school-construction agency from spending money to incorporate artwork into its school buildings.

Gov. Pataki said the $11 million the School Construction Authority has spent since 1989 on art projects would better be used to repair some of the city's many rundown schools.

"It's absolutely outrageous that the SCA is spending millions of dollars on artwork when students are forced to attend class in buildings that are in gross disrepair," the governor said during a recent news conference at a city elementary school whose gym entrance is topped by a nearly $200,000 sculpture.

"This reflects misplaced priorities at the very least, gross negligence at the very worst," he said.

Mr. Pataki's legislation would exempt schools from a city requirement that 1 percent of capital-construction monies go toward art projects. The governor said such a move would save up to $400,000 per high school, $300,000 per intermediate school, and $200,000 per elementary school.

But Tom Finkelpearl, the director of Percent for Art, the city's program for incorporating artwork into public buildings, said spending has been trimmed in recent years so that roughly $400,000 total is earmarked for school art projects in the near future.

"Even if Pataki gets his wish, it would probably save only a couple hundred thousand dollars," Mr. Finkelpearl said.

Drop in the Bucket

Arts supporters criticized Gov. Pataki's high-profile assault on spending that they call a drop in the bucket when compared with the $8 billion in facilities needs reported by school officials. The move is part of the governor's broader goal to gut government support of the arts, they said.

Students work on many of the arts projects financed through the school-construction agency and become familiar with the critical thinking and analysis that are required to design art, said Mark J. Sokol, who heads a student arts-education program for Ventures in Education, a nonprofit organization in New York City.

At a city high school in Queens, an artist included student drawings and sketches on a series of 850 ceramic tiles that run the length of the school's first-floor hallway.

"Part of the problem is that Pataki is looking at the product and not the process," Mr. Sokol said.

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