$600K for BRAC Art Upsets Those Worried About Roads

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The argument over the decision to spend $600,000 on art for the new Mark Center in Alexandria.

    A new Defense Department building in Alexandria, Va., that's been the center of traffic controversy is now stirring up more controversy because of art.

    A fairy riding a toad is one of four sculptures that are finalists to adorn the massive new building opening in the fall. More than a half million dollars is being spent on public art at the Mark Center.

    When many are concerned that there isn't enough federal funding for needed road improvements, the $600,000 price tag for art is causing a furor.

    "The sculpture that they're talking about is of a child's fantasy," U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said. "The problem is it's in the middle of an adult's nightmare, and that's really the issue. Spending $600,000 on sculpture, regardless of whether you like it or not, when that money needs to be spend on transportation improvement."

    The DOD-funded sculptures would be placed at the transportation center at the complex, where buses and shuttles will come and go each day.

    Community members on a BRAC advisory committee were surprised by the expense.

    "The price tag's shocking, you know, $400,000 to $600,000," David Dexter said. "I was hoping that some of the money could be spent on the road improvements. Until we deal with the traffic issue, we're going to have lots of problems. Nobody will come to see the art if we don't get the roads fixed."

    Local artists who've worked to develop the public art entries defended the process.

    Matthew Harwood, co-chair of the city's public art committee, said he first notified the advisory group in 2009 that he was hoping to add public art to the site.

    Public art is often controversial at first, Harwood said, but he hopes it eventually will be embraced.

    "Over time, when they realize the complexity of the project, what it contributes, it'll be a lasting gift to the city and I think people will grow to appreciate it," Harwood said.

    The four finalists formally presented their work to a judging panel Friday.