Nov. 23, 2019 — Art has been a topic of considerable interest to residents of Florence during this past year.
The installation of a large mural on the corner of Highway 126 and Highway 101 caused an uproar that prompted public meetings and a city council confrontation. The upside to the tumult was a broader discussion on the subject of public art. The passion and divergent opinions shared by the dozens that went to Florence City Council meetings to speak, as well as those who attended the mural’s dedication ceremony, was a testament to the power of art.
As a result, the subject of public art remains high on the community’s radar. The recently completed rewrite of the Florence Public Art Committee’s (PAC) workplan took considerable time and required several meetings and public forums before finalization and approval.
One of the individuals at the center of the heightened interest in art in Florence is Harlen Springer.
Springer is the Chairperson for the PAC and has been perhaps the leading voice articulating the case for a robust public art program. Springer has spoken on multiple occasions to both the city council and the public about the methodology and goals of the PAC.
He has also been a staunch defender of the benefits of a strong public art program, primarily because he believes it is an economic multiplier.
The time and effort Springer spent over the last decade sharing his passion for the arts has drawn the attention of the state government. Recently, Springer was recognized for his advocacy of public art in the region with an appointment by Gov. Kate Brown to the Oregon Arts Commission (OAC).
“Since his retirement, Harlen has devoted his time and significant business acumen to the development of the Florence arts community,” said Commission Chair Anne Taylor. “We are incredibly grateful to him and fortunate to enlist his energy in our statewide effort to enrich the lives of Oregonians through the arts.”
Springer met earlier this week with the Siuslaw News to discuss his appointment and what he hopes to contribute to the work done by the OAC.
“I will be one of nine commissioners that are appointed by the governor throughout the state and we are the primary advocacy group for the arts and culture within the state,” Springer said. “We have a lot of programs like Arts Learning Program for youth … and one of our primary responsibilities is grants. We give out some $4 million in grants to support art and artists across the state.”
The OAC is tasked with supporting the creation and distribution of all genres of art using grants, special initiatives and other services.
The OAC’s mission statement is brief but direct: “To enhance the quality of life for all Oregonians through the arts by stimulating creativity, leadership and economic vitality.”
In his capacity as chairperson of PAC, Springer has worked with several other artistic organizations. His work researching what other municipalities have done when establishing a successful public art presence has been broadly based.
This personal connection to others in the art community was one of the key factors that led to Springer’s appointment.
“I’ve gotten to know a few of the commissioners from when I started working with FRAA and also with PAC because I have asked them for information and for resources. In fact, we have gotten a grant from the Oregon Arts Commission at FRAA,” Springer said.
The Public Art Committee was formed in 2015 and has been involved with the development of the city’s policies regarding art since that time.
Springer has been at the forefront of championing art in all its forms. He said he believes that art is not only aesthetic but an economic driver for the Florence community.
“That’s one of the key things the OAC believes and it’s in their mission statement. It’s about having the arts be a part of the economic vitality of Oregon and that’s what I’ve tried to do here as well,” he said.
Springer’s leadership position at PAC, and previously as a founding member of FRAA, has placed him in a position where he can help to shape the development and placement of art in Florence, in addition to the state’s permanent art collection.
This high-profile appointment has come at a time when the relationship between the Florence City Council and PAC has begun to heal. This improvement in the relationship was evidenced by the moment of recognition awarded Springer at last Monday’s meeting.
Mayor Joe Henry, who has at times clashed with Springer over policy and priorities related to public art, was clear in his appreciation of the work done by Springer during a special recognition given during Monday’s meeting.
“Harlen has been appointed to the Oregon Arts Commission by Gov. Kate Brown. I know this is big deal because I looked at my resume and I have not been appointed to anything by Governor Brown,” Henry said with a grin. “With that in mind, we want to thank you, Harlen, for your dedication. Not only to our community but to the state of Oregon.”
Springer thanked Henry while audience members applauded the mayor’s comments.
When asked what the appointment meant to him, Springer paused and was clearly moved by the news.
“I am humbled, honored and excited because it’s a chance to do what I really want to do — which is advocate for the arts and their place as not only an aesthetic addition to a community but an economic driver as well,” Springer said.
According to the OAC website there more than 2,400 works of art in its collection.
These include drawings, paintings, mixed media, photography, original prints, sculpture, ceramics, glass, mosaics, murals and textiles.
More than 8,00 artists are represented in the collection and the work produced has been site specific in some instances and mobile in others.
The OAC is supported with general funds appropriated by the Oregon legislature and with federal funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as funds from the Oregon Cultural Trust.
More information about the Oregon Arts Commission is available online at www.oregonarts commission.org.