Leslie Sopko

Funding combinations and proper budgeting have enabled Austin Energy to finance Austin’s most expensive public art project to date.

Despite a three-year deficit forcing a raise in electric rates this year, Austin Energy will be the key sponsor in the construction of an art wall around the retired Seaholm Power Plant on Ladybird Lake, Austin Energy spokeswoman Leslie Sopko said. The City of Austin Capital Improvements Program requires Austin Energy to fund an art project for the city, which they previously budgeted $81,000 for, Sopko said. To complete funding for the project, the company combined this amount with a previously budgeted $750,000 intended for building a conventional wall surrounding the plant, Sopko said.

“This project has been in the works for a long time and the money is coming from funds we had already set aside way before any of our more recent financial problems,” Sopko said.

Austin Energy is working with Art in Public Places on the design for the wall, which may include wood, concrete pillars and panels, perforated metal and rainbow lights at night, Sopko said.

“Because the Seaholm substation is wanting to become a retail area with hotels, shops, condos and venue space it really needs to be pedestrian friendly,” Sopko said. “The wall is first and foremost a safety precaution that is necessary but since we are already required to designate funds for a city art project anyway and the wall will be in such a public place, we decided to combine the funds into one big project.”

Sopko said Austin Energy originally planned to incorporate art with their office renovations, but the plans were canceled and funding went directly to the Seaholm wall art project.

“We had been working with Art in Public Places on another project for our art requirement, but the wall was in a better and more public location so we decided to transfer the
money,” Sopko said.

Consumer advocate Bill Oakey, who has led the fight against what he calls Austin Energy’s “multiple unfair rate increase proposals,” said he understands that a city art project usually takes years of planning and budgeting and therefore is most likely not wasteful spending.

Although he said he does not know much about the art wall because he has been focusing more on Austin Energy rates, Oakey said he sees the reasoning behind funding it.

“I am, of course, for Austin art and promoting Austin as an art friendly city,” Oakey said.

Nicole Larance, radio-television-film junior with business foundations, said the art wall is a good investment for Austin because its downtown location will make it a tourist attraction.

“Because most of the money is being used for a wall that will make the area safer for people, and not just on something that will not be useful, I think it’s a good investment,” Larance said. “There are already art museums there, too, so it will fit right in and become another Austin attraction.”

Printed on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 as: Austin Energy sponsors Seaholm Power Plant's wall art project