If Ward 2 Councilman George Solley decides not to seek re-election in 2014, there's one thing he'd like to see complete by the time his term is finished and that's a more robust arts community.
During a recent interview, Solley said he realizes this can't be done without the help of the City of Fredericksburg. He said when City Council has its fall retreat, he wants on the agenda a discussion about establishing some new funding for the arts that might enable the Arts Commission to evaluate and approve public art projects and find more opportunities to boost Fredericksburg's art scene.
"We do have a pretty active and vibrant arts community," he said. "It is a surprisingly active arts scene for a place this size."
Solley mentioned how artist Mirinda Reynolds is creating a mural for 104 William St. at BikeWorks and more public art like this can happen if there's new funding. Solley said downtown Fredericksburg could host weekend arts events with local and national artists visiting downtown.
"There’s room for more public art. We have open spaces that could really use three-dimensional art. We have broad building expanses that could be enhanced by murals and we have some public space where art could be displayed."
One example Solley gave is having art in the City Council chambers, where mostly pictures of past mayors and current council members adorn the walls. Some ideas Solley had to secure a funding stream for the arts would be to dedicate a certain percentage of bonds go to public art displays and it may be possible to dedicate portions of taxes the city already collects to the arts.
"It really depends on the community support for art funding," he said. "It still has to be weighed against other things. However, I do think we do need to move in the direction of having these funding sources for the arts and the public arts."
The city's fiscal year 2012 budget, which ends July 1, is expected to have a surplus. Solley said he would like to use some of that surplus for seed money for the arts. What he doesn't want to see is any new tax that would be used for arts funding.
"It partly depends on what’s acceptable to the Arts Commission, the downtown area and the community at large," Solley said. "The economic rationality is that this would be paid back—the city will receive more revenue by stimulating the arts community and bringing more people to the city. It is the same basic thought process for special events: People come here and they spend their money while they are here and they come back."
Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said when she was elected this past May that she wants to focus on having a performing arts center in the city. At an Arts and Cultural Council of the Rappahannock meeting last month, Greenlaw reiterated her commitment and Solley was in the audience in support. Solley said a performing arts center could be a huge draw for downtown Fredericksburg and he plans to work with Greenlaw on the initiative.
"We have some great restaurants downtown, and some small entertainment downtown, and small retail downtown, but what we don’t have is something in and of itself to bring people downtown to do those things," he said. "A performing arts venue would bring people outside of Fredericksburg to Fredericksburg on a regular basis."
Do you have ideas of how the city could fund arts initiatives in Fredericksburg? Speak up in the comments!