OLYMPIA -- A Senate bill that authorizes the sale of $5 million worth of art to pay for fine arts programs and higher education is impractical, according to a Washington State Arts Commission spokeswoman.
Senate Bill 6597, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, would require the arts commission to make an inventory of state-owned art and sell some of it at public auctions.
The bill then would direct 60 percent of the money to Washington State Need Grants for students and 40 percent to the Washington State Arts Commission for repairing, buying and conserving art.
Kris Tucker, executive director for the arts commission, told the Herald that Keiser's bill does not take into consideration the types of pieces that the state collection includes.
The commission has been buying art by Washington artists since 1974 and putting that art on display in public places, such as schools, libraries and other state-funded buildings.
Much of the art often is a part of the building, such as Steve Gardner's colored-glass window art, Where Will You Go?, at Pasco High School.
These integrated pieces would lose their community and monetary value if they were removed from their structures to be sold, Tucker said.
"It would be difficult -- if not impossible -- to auction those pieces," Tucker said.
Keiser told the Herald the bill was inspired by a mural by abstract-expressionist Kenneth Callahan in the Joel M. Pritchard Library Building in Olympia.
The room normally is dark and locked, and the public never sees the mural, she said.
"I thought, 'Why is this work of art being left unseen?' " Keiser said.
Keiser said she hopes the bill would bring art to communities across Washington and raising money for low-income students seeking higher education.
Gary Larson, with the Higher Education Commission, told the Herald that for the 2011-12 school year, more than 70,000 students will receive State Need Grants.
However, there was not enough money to help 26,000 students who qualified for state grants, he said. The commission expects a similar funding shortfall when students apply for grants this fall, he said.
More than 40 percent of students at the Tri-City campus of Washington State University come from low-income families, Dick Pratt, vice chancellor for academic affairs, told the Herald.
The campus has grown 43 percent in five years, but because of rising tuition and declining financial aid, enrollment did not increase last year, he said.
The arts commission also has been affected by a 20 percent state funding cut, Keiser said, and some lawmakers have discussed stopping all money to the program.
Many works of art remain in storage because the commission does not have ample money to restore them, Keiser said.
"We're talking about fine art," Keiser said, "If you don't conserve it, it disintegrates."
Tucker said the commission stores art when it has been damaged beyond repair or the cost of repairs exceeds the value of the work. Because these works of art are put on public display from elementary school lunchrooms to outdoor parks, many go through irreversible wear and tear.
The commission stopped buying two-dimensional works of art such as paintings 10 years ago and since then has been focusing on structurally integrated works because they last longer.
The mural that inspired Keiser is more like an integrated work than a simple painting, Tucker said. The mural wraps around the entire room, more than 200 feet in length. Removing it would cost money, and finding a buyer interested in that scale of a piece would be hard, Tucker said.
Keiser's bill assumes that 250 pieces of art could be sold at an average of $20,000 each, raising the $5 million. But Tucker said she doubts whether the commission's works would fetch appraisals that high, and if buyers would pay that much. Reaching the $5 million mark would exhaust the entire commission's collection, Tucker said.
"To sell off the state's art collection for short term financial gain is not worth it," Tucker said.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means but does not have a deadline to be passed out of the committee.
Keiser said she hopes the bill will be heard by the committee by next week; otherwise, it will be difficult to get it passed through the House and Senate before the legislative session ends.