NORFOLK, Neb. -- Supporters of the arts are speaking out against comments made Monday night by a Norfolk resident.

On Monday citizen and mayoral candidate, Jim McKenzie spoke about his concerns about art purchases being made in the city.

McKenzie said he was concerned about taxpayer dollars being spent on art, saying:

"We can't continue to ask the taxpayers to pay for all of the amenities over and over again, especially when we're raising taxes and accumulating debt."

Created in 2021 the Norfolk Arts Council has worked to bring public art to the community like sculptures, murals, lighting, music, and more. 

In total, the Arts Council has access to $25,000 of city administration funds they can use each year and $59,000 in CARES Act funding, which is exclusively reserved for art projects in Norfolk.

If the council does not use the city's funding or has some money remaining, it is given back to the city and put into the general fund.

Frank Arens a city councilman, who also sits on the Arts Council, disagrees that public art isn't needed.

He said the work the Arts Council does helps residents take pride in their community, and makes a positive impact.

"For me personally, I think you're going to find that you have better community involvement, I think you have better community cohesiveness," Arens said. "I really want the people of Norfolk to be able to take pride in their community and I do believe the arts certainly helps with that."

Arens said it's important that all community initiatives are supported by the city, and said they will provide that support so long as it is fiscally feasible.

"We need to be supportive of all community initiatives and not just one," Arens said. "What is important to you may not be important to me. Working together we try and do our best to support Norfolk's wants. However, it's only when this is fiscally feasible and works with our overall budget. When the wants begins to cut into our needs, the needs come first." 

Residents from Norfolk have also spoken up in favor of art projects

During the same meeting where McKenzie stated his concerns, Kara Weander-Gastor from Norfolk's Creative District spoke to the economic impact art can have on a community.

"I feel like the arts are a great economic development tool," Weander-Gastor said. "There are young people, young creatives, who live in these communities, and they are looking for a place to go. They are being told to leave, right? I would encourage us to have them stay."

Another community member, Reverend Ty Woznek, said he understood Norfolk's need for other infrastructure, but stated the arts shouldn't take a back seat to economic development.

"I am very well aware that there are many other needs in our community like the police station that needs a lot of work," Woznek said. "But, also to make sure that we are not just focusing on infrastructure, but things that are going to take make this a great place to live." 

Norfolk Arts Council President Jan Einspahr was unavailable for an interview with NCN, but did reiterate the council's mission statement of being a leading force in nurturing art in all forms, for all people, and providing a space for creative work and collaboration, fostering an environment of diversity, equity, inclusion, and safety.