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Proposed bill would auction off state art collection

The State Need Grant program would receive 60 percent of funds raised, while the remaining 40 percent would go back to the art commission to repair remaining pieces and acquire new ones. (AP Photo/File)

A Washington state senator has proposed selling off the state’s art collection in favor of raising funds to help low-income students attend college.

Senator Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said the idea came to her as she sat at a meeting inside a rarely-used basement conference room.

“I looked up and I saw this gorgeous painting – a masterpiece,” she said. “I looked at that, in this empty room that’s not open to public view, and I said, ‘Why are we locking away our treasures that should be seen and enjoyed?'”

While many of the Washington State Art Commission’s more than 4,000 pieces of art are on public display – at universities and state agencies, for example – Keiser said many are never seen.

“So I’m attempting to create a new way to look at our art collection: As an asset to be used,” Keiser said. “Rather than just sit on a collection that isn’t being seen, let’s pick and choose those pieces that might be very worthwhile to auction.”

Keiser said the bill, Senate Bill 6597, would propose selling at least $5 million worth of art at public auction every two years to create a “revolving fund” that would be a “win-win” for both the arts community and the higher education community.

The State Need Grant program would receive 60 percent of funds raised, while the remaining 40 percent would go back to the art commission to repair remaining pieces and acquire new ones.

Kris Tucker, the commission’s executive director, told the Everett Herald Monday that the bill is a “very problematic approach” to raising money. She said that putting public art in private hands would ruin that state’s cultural legacy.

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