Chris’s Corner: A Libertarian Look at “Public Art”

When the Reporter asked me to pen a column on taking a libertarian-oriented approach to local government, I agreed. Here’s my first go at it.

But first, a caveat. I am a conservative. And a Republican. And sort of libertarian. I have often identified myself as a conservative with a libertarian streak. So what you read in my columns on this subject is not necessarily from a pure-bred libertarian, if there is such a creature. This is merely one man’s opinion, not the official doctrine of libertarianism, and you should take it as such.

Because of the recent hullabaloo concerning the large steel sculpture, aka Boundary Waters Sculpture, in what’s called Centennial Circle, I thought I’d write my first column taking a look at “public art.”

A lot of the critical comments regarding the project related to its artistic merits, or lack thereof. Unfortunately, I am the last person in the world who should be critiquing art, and my guess is that many people reading this column who complained about the artistic value of the sculpture are just like me.

My guess is that if I were browsing a yard sale and I came across what was the original Mona Lisa with a $1 sticker on it, I would pass it by. And if it had a really nice frame around it, I might just buy it for the frame and discard the painting. I’m also guessing that many others, maybe even you, dear reader, have a similar lack of artistic appreciation, but that may not have stopped you from opining on the subject, as was your right.

As for me, I’ve seen plenty of these large steel art pieces in lots of cities and ours is no worse than the others.

My issues with the sculpture had to do with the government being in the business of funding such a piece in the first place. Federal, state or local, I think government should focus on what it was intended to focus on. And that’s not art, public or otherwise.

If local government really felt compelled to have “public art”, perhaps it could allow a privately-funded art piece to be constructed on public property, a place like Centennial Circle. We should also ask is public art that which is funded by the public or is public art simply art that is in the public sphere.

If no private individuals or organizations wanted to fully fund such a project, perhaps some trees would be better suited for the circle.

The problem with “public” art is that we’re forcing people to pay for something who may or may not want it, and who may or may not be able to afford it. Some of you are thinking, wait a minute, I don’t want to pay for a lot of things government does, and you probably have a point. But we have constitutions and charters that are our framework for government, and I’m not really sure where art fits into that.

Bear in mind that our federal government is $20 trillion in debt, our state government is in financial trouble, and you know full well the state of the city.

On the ideological continuum between where the government has total control of resources, we’ll call that communism, and where there is no government, we’ll call that anarchy, I sit somewhere in the area where we have a limited government that focuses on things like public safety and duties that the private sector just can’t accomplish.

Art just isn’t one of those things.

But as I told the Reporter when they asked me to comment, after the fact, on this issue, “it’s time to look forward.”


Chris Voccio is a Niagara Falls City Councilman and can be reached at

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