The Blue Rhino in the room.
When times are tough and budgets tight, politicians rein in spending on nonessential services lest they face their constituents’ wrath. Public art, which often gets batted around like a political hockey puck, is usually among the first victims.
Such was the case last week when the Chattanooga City Council clashed over the proposed purchase of “Blue Boy Pull Toy #1,” the big blue rhino atop a cart by local artist John Petrey that’s been celebrated by residents, visitors and art mavens since it took up residence near the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.
The mayor-appointed citizen board that recommends public art purchases financed by private and public funding endorsed spending $32,000 to purchase “Blue Boy”, citing its critical and popular acclaim. And while the sculpture is the committee’s first recommended outlay in three years, at least two councilmembers couldn’t resist the chance to score political points by objecting to the expense.