The Investigators

Mar 6, 2014 7:59 PM by Tom McNamara and Paul Birmingham

N4T Investigators: What you're paying for Modern Streetcar art

In just a few months, it's expected that Tucson's Modern Streetcar will be ready for the first paying riders to step on board. But, as the News 4 Tucson Investigator uncovered, what riders see at the streetcar stops actually cost more than the average salary of most Tucsonans.

The stops along the 3.9 mile route are mostly complete. It's a project that has been years in the making. You've probably seen the streetcar during testing over the past several months. But, what you might have missed, is the public artwork along the route. It's artwork for which you, the taxpayer, are paying.

As the nearly $200M project gets set to roll into revenue service, the News 4 Tucson Investigators wanted to find out how much taxpayers are paying for the public art component of the project.

There are eight unique stops with public art. For those stops, each artist was paid $73,750. For another unique stop, the total cost was just over $174,000. There will also be poetry-reader boards at nine of the so-called 'simple' stops. The public art projects were awarded by the Tucson-Pima Arts Council, following a call to artists. TPAC was awarded $85,000 for administrative fees. The total for the public art was $850,000.

"Public art leaves a visual identity for the community. It expresses community values. And, it provides jobs as well, for people who choose to work in the creative industry," says Mary Ellen Wooten, with TPAC.

One reason for that eye-popping price-tag, the City of Tucson, like Pima County, has a policy of spending 1% of the total amount of a project on public art.

Along with the cost of the public art at streetcar stops, another thing that might surprise you is that only about half of the artists actually come from Tucson. The other artists are from places like Phoenix, California and New Mexico. That fact led the News 4 Tucson Investigators to the question: shouldn't all of the artists for Tucson's project be from Tucson?

"We have public money, and we want to make it available to the public, so are calls to artists are open to anybody who thinks they're qualified. And, we then really try to look at what is the best and who we think can do the best art for the project, whether it's one piece, or multiple pieces like this," Wooten says.

Wooten tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, there's another reason for using artists from places other than Tucson.

"Artists who have chosen to work in the public art field simply cannot make their living in one community. We want our Tucson artists to be competitive in Phoenix, and California, and the other areas," Wooten says.

It's also important to mention in light of the cost of the public art component, the city is still facing about a $13M budget gap for the operation of the streetcar, and it's not clear how that gap will end up being filled.

If you have something you'd like the news 4 Tucson Investigators to check out, email us, at, or call the News 4 Tucson Investigators tip-line at 955-4444.


Most Popular

Top Videos

1 2 3 4