Dec. 3, 2019 — The City of Florence Public Art Committee (PAC) met at 10 a.m. Monday morning at Florence City Hall for the first time since the city council approved the committee’s modified workplan at its Nov. 4 meeting.
The approval of the revised workplan last month removed the metaphorical “Sword of Damocles” that was hanging over the organization, as members worked successfully to respond to calls earlier this year for the committee’s reorganization or dissolution.
These calls came after the selection of PAC’s purchase of the “Stitching Time, Weaving Cultures” mural on the east side of the Lincoln Public Utilities District Building, on the corner of Quince Street and Highway 126.
The process by which art is integrated into the different aspects of the city’s overall public art program was criticized by many residents as a direct result of the mural’s installation. Public meetings were held to packed rooms of residents upset with or in favor of the subject matter and the style of the piece created by Marino-Heidel Studios of Portland.
The makeup of PAC, its reporting process and the manner by which the city funds public art all changed drastically as a result of the mural controversy.
There were changes in the council’s level of input into the selection of art and the Florence Urban Renewal Agency (FURA), funding for future purchase for public art was curtailed.
PAC is again addressing issues related to the mural, as the primary action item on the agenda for Monday’s meeting involved the question of whether to follow through with an earlier plan to light the mural.
The decision to light the “Stitching Time” mural was revisited for two reasons. PAC’s original plan had been to light the mural once it was installed for better night viewing, with a cost of $9,500 budgeted for this part of the project.
However, the newly revised city codes modified the rules governing the lighting requirements for the mural and could now potentially cost $15,000, or more, to install.
There is also a strong possibility the decision to spend that additional money, assuming it could be obtained, could potentially reignite the debate over the mural.
Harlan Springer, as chairperson of PAC, led the Monday meeting and Sarah Moehrke, Florence’s Community and Economic Development Assistant, brought the news to members that the amount of money budgeted for the lighting would be insufficient to complete the installation.
“We received two out of three quotes … and they were significantly over what we had budgeted,” Moehrke said. “One was like $12,500 and another one was close to $14,000, and that was with the original lighting plan, which isn’t actually up to code. We created a lighting plan for the mural permitting process and through that permitting process we found out the lighting plan had exterior wiring, which is not technically within code for that area.”
While the majority of the committee members supported the idea of moving forward by requesting an engineering plan to determine what the actual installation costs associated with lighting would be, committee member Jennifer French was clear that she opposed the idea of adding lighting and potentially revisiting the mural controversy.
“My feeling is that I’m guessing a large percentage of the population is not driving around town between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., which is when we would have the lights on — so who’s going to see it?” she asked. “We roll up our sidewalks at 8 p.m. So, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, especially after all the problems we have had up until now.”
Moehrke had touched on the idea of simply closing the case of the contentious mural a bit earlier in her recap as she reported that the minimum increase to the cost of the lighting installation would be $6,000 and possibly much more.
“Maybe, we should just let the mural be done and be done with the project. The landscaping is installed and it looks beautiful. And the coating is on there and we could just not add exterior lighting,” Moehrke suggested.
Springer, however, wanted to continue pursuing the idea of some type of lighting for the mural, regardless of concerns voiced by French and others.
“We do have money to do some kind of lighting plan,” he said. “So, my suggestion is that we go back to the lighting guys and say we don’t have $12,000, we have $9,500 — and we could probably get something done. This gives an opportunity to do something special here.”
The end result of the extended, yet overall courteous discussion, was the decision to engage the city’s engineer to create a new lighting plan for the mural. PAC members agreed to revisit the issue once that new plan has been submitted and cleared by the Planning Department.
There were a few lesser profile items on the PAC agenda, which were then discussed. The one action item — a new Art Exposed Call for Artists for the gallery in Historic Old Town — was approved, specifically the wording and authorization for city staff to hire the art notification organization, CaFÉ (Call for Entry), to handle the distribution of the next call to artists.
Springer brought the meeting to a close after suggesting PAC contact the Oregon Ballet Theater (OBT), which has an educational outreach program. Springer was recently appointed to the Oregon Arts Commission by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and students from OBT performed for the commissioners at their meeting last week in Portland.
The OBT is actively involved in bringing ballet to rural areas of the state and Springer received approval from PAC members to pursue the possibility of the troupe performing in Florence.
The next meeting of the PAC is set for Jan. 13, beginning at 10:30 a.m., at Florence City Hall.