Spending Big Cash on Public Art Does Not Sit Well With Some RA Directors

by Karen Goff March 25, 2016 at 4:15 pm 38 Comments

Public art at Dogwood PoolReston Association Board members will revisit in May the idea of allocating $65,000 this year for public art.

At-Large Director Ken Knueven had made a motion to take the money from the operating cash reserves to support the Initiative for Public Art Reston (IPAR) as it plans its budget for 2017.

There are 18 development projects in the pipeline for Reston, and about half those projects are on land that falls under Reston Association covenants, said Knueven.

Public art also is one of the principles of Reston, and working with IPAR is in the proffers for most developers, he added.

RA will be working with IPAR before the end of 2016 to commission public art for the Pony Barn Recreation site and the new Lake House (formerly Tetra) property, according to Knueven’s motion. In 2017, RA will likely also be planning public art at other RA facilities such as the Central Services Facility, Hook Road Recreation Area, and the Autumnwood Recreation Area, among others.

Knueven said that increasing the donation from RA’s typical $10,000 to $65,000 will go beyond just art. Knueven hinted it could provide leeway for RA to have greater influence on development.

“It allows us to have a louder conversation and a much broader presence in those conversations” with developers, he said.

That did not sit well with several RA Board members, who asked why this could not have been brought up late last year when RA was formulating its 2016 budget.

“Where is the line on how we are going to spend our money?” said At-Large Director Ray Wedell. “We don’t have enough information, and we are trying to buy our way into influence. Reserves should be for emergency situations. You need to prove it to me that we need to spend the money.”

Hunters Woods/Dogwood Director Lucinda Shannon said the public art discussion should wait a year.

“I am against the whole idea,” she said. “It is irresponsible for us when we have the exposed sewer line, we have kids in school in trailers — and [RA] has $65,000 for public art?”

Added Wedell: “It is not our money. It is the people’s money. It’s not IPAR’s money. I don’t see how we can possibly justify this.”

Photo: Public art at RA’s Dogwood Pool 

  • Mike M

    “Public art also is one of the principles of Reston, and working with IPAR is in the proffers for most developers, he added.”

    A perfect example of proffers gone wild.

    • Ming the Merciless

      Hey, if developers want to put another $55,000 into public art, that’s fine with me – so long as they also spend their money on sensible things, too (yes, including more “infrastructure”).

      • Mike M

        The problem is when the County uses their proffers influence and get nonsense instead of sense. And besides, modern art isn’t.



  • RuffRuff

    Why revisit it in May? Just say NO already and move on to more important matters.

  • Disgusted With R.A.

    So Ken Knueven wants more yellow whatever-the devil-they-are thingies (such as those in located at the Town Center) to influence local development? Oh puh-leeze…

    • Ming the Merciless

      And oh by the way, I thought the whole idea was that developers should be trying to influence us by spending their money (i.e., “proffers”), not we should be trying to influence them with our money.

      And why the heck would any developer care that we spent $65,000 on public art? What would that make the developer do – besides laugh at how stupid we are?

  • Andrew I

    I urge everyone who is against this to email the members of the board. Two directors were against this last night and they fought enough to get it postponed because those who brought the motion didn’t have enough supporting information – Thank you Ray and Lucinda for standing up the opinion of many Reston owners and residents. Other directors who were either for it or were mainly silent need to hear your opinion. You can watch the discussion here https://youtu.be/iAMEzn2Z9-E?t=4h9m57s and find the emails of the board here https://www.reston.org/AboutRestonAssociation/Governance/BoardofDirectors/MeettheBoardOfficers/tabid/396/Default.aspx

    I emailed my district director before yesterday’s meeting. Eve managed to make one small statement about this being hard for some members to see as a reasonable expense then rambled on about it being a good use of money – no way she gets my vote this election.

    • Eve Thompson

      Since this may have been my last RA Board meeting I’d like to be totally up front with my opinion on this topic. 1. I am a support of public art. 2. I have concerns about how this should be funded.

      I think it’s important and fair for everyone to acknowledge that funding choices on non-essentials come down to individual and group priorities. What do we as board members feel is important or good for the community. For some it is adding Garden Plots, for others it’s Trail Marking. Part of the job of a board member is sorting through these things and figuring out what to make a priority.

      I would argue that Public Art, like Public Libraries are good things to have in a community. It makes art available to everyone, it is also good for property values and creating community. I understand and accept that not everyone feels this way but honestly- it’s discouraging to not be able a civil discussion on the topic. Shouldn’t we at least be able to do that?


      • Ming the Merciless

        You like public art. Great. But why is the existing donation of $10,000 insufficient? Why do we all of a sudden, without much discussion, need to spend $65,000 on it? Does the RA really have no better use for that $55,000 than “more public art”?

        • Eve Thompson

          The hour and exhaustion of the board didn’t allow time for any substantive discussion, hence putting it off until May when the new board is seated. But I think the question is exactly what you posed- If we’re going to spend this money is this the best use? If we can’t discuss it then it’s really hard to form an opinion about it– at least an informed opinion. Clearly there’s plenty of knee-jerk.

          • Greg

            Don’t spend the money at all. Instead, RA will do far better by reducing the assessment and, in so doing, directly benefitting each assessment payer.

          • Mike M

            So, if I vehemently and fundamentally disagree with your idea about funding public art with RA money, then I am knee-jerk or uncivil?

        • cRAzy

          …and why not reconsider the $10,000 annual donation. What value has it added to our community? Oh, wait, I know: “creating community.”

          • Ming the Merciless

            The artist members of the community benefit from being paid to create ugly dreck instead of being forced to seek boring old gainful employment.

            The RA Board members of the community benefit from being able to project “virtue” at someone else’s expense.

            The rest of the community benefits… not so much.

      • cRAzy

        1. Public libraries are paid for by County taxes, not an HOA fee. So if the County wants to put a little public art in Reston, that would be OK although I can think of better uses of even that money.
        2. FWIW, the County is barely funding our libraries. In fact, the budget and the number of books in our libraries have been in decline for more than a decade. Using the same perverse logic, maybe we also need to spend less on public art.
        3. Show me a piece of Reston property that’s value has increased because someone stuck an abstract art piece in front of it.
        4. Instead of “creating community,” you and other similar thinking RA Board members are creating divisiveness by your continued wasteful spending of our homeowner assessments. I remember having to battle the Board NOT to put public art in our natural areas during the stream remediation. WTF? There are at least 100 better ways to spend the money, some of which have been suggested here, and you could always NOT spend it and keep our assessment fee increases under control for a change.
        We’ll miss you on the Board, like a bad case of the flu.

        • NamingNames

          Wow- way to advance a thoughtful discussion Mr. Ed Abbott. I wonder if your ugliness is how you compensate for being such an short man? A nasty little Napoleon.

          • cRAzy

            Wow! I already told you and your two anonymous friends (probably all of them you) that I’m not Ed Abbott (or “Abbot”) nor do I know him. But you just keep on keepin’ on with your personal attacks on an innocent bystander.
            So what’s a little collateral damage when you’re slandering people with irrelevant personal insults. None of which I did in commenting on Eve’s propensity to spend everyone else’s money on useless projects.

          • Ed Abbott

            To cRAzy: Thanks for correcting the record that you are not me. By the way, my last name is spelled with two t’s. Also, I am in general agreement with your comments on the article about public art. If you would like to meet for coffee sometime, let me know. I am in the phone book.

            To NamingNames: If your goal is to name names, you should name your own name. Also, I am one inch taller than Napoleon was at the height of his career. Whether or not that is “short,” I will leave others to decide. In addition, “The Little Coloniel,” once said:

            “The people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know who they are.”

          • cRAzy

            Your welcome. Thanks.

            Phone book????

          • Ed Abbott

            I am showing my age. The offer for coffee still stands.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Those comments were thoughtful, incisive, and exactly on point.

            That’s probably why you had to resort to name-calling as your response.

      • John Higgins

        Eve, and through you to the entire RA board, I urge that you give little weight to the intellectual flatulance found here. Promoting “public art” is not a new idea. It popped up somewhere in the development of Athens and Rome and has been an element of virtually every generation since. (OK, it preceded those cities, but I’m not clever enough to give examples.) Accept that you are on the right track, and there is a strong silent majority who support this effort.

        The question you face is: how much? As some have observed, there are numerous unmet needs and desires. Your budget process confronts and ranks priorities. Had this request been before you at that time, you might have funded it, you might have chosen public art over, for example, curb clean-up, or you might have rejected it. The story is all too familiar (see South Lakes HS artificial turf field, the rain garden and Reston film documentary): walk-on requests don’t sit well with the membership. I suspect this is a case where the problem is not the product, it’s the packaging.

        Govern on.

        • Mike M

          Brilliant! If people disagree with you, they are intellectually flatulent. You know what’s in the best interest of the people, even when they don’t. Is there always a “silent majority” that agrees with you?

    • ObJ obs

      Eve is the queen of fluffy talk. See comment section. Agile, ambigous, self absorbed. A time waster.

    • Fix the pools you fools

      Thanks for putting up this link Andrew I.

      Ken Kneuven and those who chose to squander RA money on public art while our pools and other HOA facilities languish are out of touch.

  • John Farrell

    It’s just one boondoogle after another with Knueven, now.

    Art installations at the Central Facility!? You mean the RV storage lot. So the folks on the Fairfax Parkway can appreciate how RA wastes money.

    Hook Road and Autumnwoods don’t have space for art installations. The recreational functions command every square inch. Shall we have the outfielders and soccer players dodging twisted metal abstractions at Hook Road.

    Why not take the $65,000 and replace the backstops at Hook Road and extend the fencing in front of the benches so the foul balls don’t hit the kids in the head.

    Ken won’t be on the Board for the May meeting. So good on Lucinda!

  • surfish

    Most of the public ‘art’ is slop, doled out by connected ‘artists’, who cynically slap something together to save Culture from the philistines.

  • Greg

    For the record, our family does not support this expense, even $10,000 annually, for public art.

  • John Higgins

    The RA board was right to table this issue. The question was not one of spending money on public art (directly). Those acquisitions are made by IPAC, a non-profit that raises large amounts of money for this “public good”. RA’s donations are used to support that organization..the costs of planning, soliciting donations, seeking grants, implementation, and fund raising. At $10,000 per year, the cost is 50 cents per household. Compare that with other common good spending, such as nature area preservation, open space management, lake maintenance, etc. Hardly enough to get worked up about.

    This week’s effort to increase it to a total of $65,000 failed because it was not subjected to adequate scrutiny by the members or the board. It was somewhat embarrassing that no one could clearly explain why the increase was needed or more specifically how IPAC would use it. For those to whom details count, the source of this money was described as being the “Operating Cash Reserve”, but the RA does not have such a reserve account. It has cash in the Operating Fund, but none has been reserved. As nerdish as this sounds, I’m more troubled by the lack of understanding of the financial structure and budget process than the haste with which this was put on the agenda.

    • Lake Anne Fan

      These are the same directors who did the back room deals for the scandalous land “swap” and the grossly overpriced Tetra deal. Proffers and corporate donations are the typical and most acceptable way to pay for selective works of art.
      Directors Wedell and Hannon have it right. IPAR should be zeroed out of the homeowners budget.

    • Restontimes

      John, you were on the Reston board. Do you recall IPAR, and how it’s funded?

      • John Higgins

        Restontimes, I do recall IPAR, its mission and source of funds. My tastes tend to be for more traditional and functional art forms. I believe IPAR makes a valuable contribution, but I was never motivated to personally become involved.

        IPAR receives donations from public, private, and corporate benefactors. But “receives” is too passive a term. They have to work, and work hard, to identify sources and encourage donations and grants. Organizations such as RCC, GRACE, RTC Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and RA provide minor financial support for the operations of IPAR, not the artwork itself.

        I am hardly the proper source of info about IPAR. Perhaps someone from that organization will correct any inaccuracies in my statements and add to this worthwhile discussion.

        • Restontimes

          Thanks. Would love to know and understand how much they receive from each of the organizations you mentioned.

    • Greg

      As if any of those so-called art pieces are attractive? Or foster any thing close to community?

      And there you go again with your it’s too small to worry about. #smfh.

      $10,000 (or $65,000) is real money. Especially when compounded annually.

  • This thread is now closed.

    “I am against the whole idea,I it is irresponsible for us when we have the exposed sewer line, we have kids in school in trailers — and [RA] has $65,000 for public art?”

  • MJay

    Can someone on or connected to the RA board please explain why this is even an issue? I like art and have no desire to be an art critic one way or another. But RA is a homeowners association. It says it right in the bylaws. At least for reserve funds, expenditures must go directly to the benefit of the owners, so if they plan on using surplus money for this type of donation, the benefit, such as it is, appears indirect. Regardless, again, why donate at all? Is there a tax deduction to make this worthwhile? Why not just use member dues to maintain the grounds and basically do what homeowners associations do? If the art group wants to erect art funded by the myriad other donations they receive, they can ask RA to approve it and all is good. I just don’t see why a homeowners association is in the donation business.


    This is absurd. Let those who wish to support art projects do so with voluntary gifts not coerced Association dollars. The art and the giver will be both better for it. There are too many struggling families in Reston to take their hard earned cash for this.


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