July 24, 2019 — Florence’s Public Art Committee (PAC) met at Florence City Hall Monday morning with the future of the group uncertain. At the July 15 Florence City Council meeting, councilors passed a motion to strictly limit the current activities of PAC and required members to come up with a new plan for the way in which it interacts with the public and city entities in the future.
The push to curtail the activities and influence that PAC has on the selection of public art in Florence has been spearheaded by Mayor Joe Henry. This was made clear during the July council meeting, where Henry said that he simply “doesn’t buy, in his heart” the idea that a broad and varied collection of public art pieces would be a significant economic driver for the city.
Henry also stated that he felt the leadership of the committee needed to change before he would support PAC continuing as an official part of the city structure. This position was supported by councilors Geraldine Lucio and Woody Woodbury.
Monday’s PAC meeting began with Chairperson Harlen Springer setting the stage for what will undoubtedly be a difficult process to reimagine the relationship between PAC and the city.
Springer restated the council’s mandate that PAC must restructure itself and, within 90 days, submit for approval a plan to work in a different way with the council and the city.
One of the main issues that Henry cited for his insistence that PAC be reconfigured or completely eliminated as a committee was what he called the dominance and unprofessional behavior of Councilor Joshua Greene, who serves as an ex-officio member of the art committee.
Springer then announced to the committee that he and Greene had met, and that Greene had made a decision regarding future participation in the work of PAC.
“Joshua and I met on Friday and he has agreed to step away from the being the ex-officio representative of the PAC,” Springer said. “He is doing that for the benefit of the committee, and we believe that’s in the best interest of the community. I would like to personally say that whatever has happened over the past several weeks and months, the discussions and heated exchanges and that sort of thing does not, and should not, detract from Joshua’s decades of work here in our city. I believe the city owes Joshua a great debt of gratitude.”
Springer then announced that committee member Greg Carlton had resigned due to what he considered an unwarranted attack on the work done by PAC and the unfair accusations leveled at Greene by Henry and other community members.
Shortly after, Greene unexpectedly arrived at the meeting and asked to make a brief statement to the committee members. Greene was visibly subdued as he addressed the committee.
“As you all know, I have been very fond and passionate about public art. I was extremely moved by Greg’s resignation letter and it made me feel I needed to be responsible and apologize to all of you for my behavior over the last few months,” said Greene. “I wanted you to know that the issues between me and Joe are personal, and it is getting in the way of us doing good work. All of you, as responsible and well-meaning members of the community, should be given the respect to do exactly what you have committed yourself to do and shouldn’t be slighted by these distractions.”
Greene continued, “We have worked very hard over the last four years to get to where we are and, hopefully, we will get past all of this and continue on this journey. Right now, things are going to be a little different than I had imagined because of the budgetary issues. But there is still work to be done and I think it’s best if I stay out of it and let Harlen and Jo (Beaudreau) and everyone else lead the way. What happens in the future is yet to be seen. But I am hopeful, I am a visionary and I am a dreamer — and I respect you all tremendously. With that, I bid you adieu.”
Greene than left the meeting after receiving thanks from PAC members as he exited.
The meeting continued afterwards with Springer reading into record portions of Carlton’s resignation letter, which starkly contradicted the criticisms leveled at Greene by Henry and Lucio.
Springer next took a few minutes to respond directly to what he perceived as attacks directed at him made by the mayor, whose comments called into question Springer’s truthfulness and professionalism.
He read from a transcript the statements he had made during a television interview, highlighting for PAC the actual words he said, which contradicted statements Henry had attributed to him.
Next, the attention of PAC members was than directed to a discussion geared towards redefining the work to be done by the committee and the way in which that work will be done. A number of points made during the discussion touched on some of the problems that PAC had in sharing the process used in selecting art — including placement of the controversial Quince Street mural, which was recently completed.
City Recorder Kelli Weese provided guidance as to the exact constraints imposed by the city council, and members were encouraged by Springer to share their opinions on the role of public art in Florence, as well as what role they envisioned for PAC moving forward.
Members of the committee provided additional comments to the Siuslaw News regarding the meeting after the work session ended.
While many PAC members were supportive of the process and the art selected for the mural, there was a recognition by member Peggy Meyer that a more receptive approach should be taken in the future when considering content and placement for future art installations.
“We have been getting lots of negative feedback for months and it hurts like the dickens,” Meyer said. “There’s a line in our mission statement that speaks of diversity. I think the public is afraid we’re going to keep giving them our idea of what ‘the WOW factor’ is. They seem to feel that we are coming across as elitists. That’s not our aim. It’s time we give the people what they’re asking for. The public’s negative feedback has been a wake-up call to us. This doesn’t have to be a fight.
“It’s up to us to get things back on the right footing. It’s time to work together.”
Kurt Vander Bogart is the ex-Officio member of PAC representing the city’s Community Economic Development Committee, and his interpretation of the Marino-Heidel Mural provides a different take on the piece.
“PAC members have learned a great deal from the ‘Stitching Time, Weaving Cultures’ mural. Earlier and more frequent communication with the public will ensure a greater meeting of the minds with all stakeholders,” he said. “I still like the mural. It combines a rich Native American history with an art style that is very visionary. I also like the Yachats ‘Oregon is Magic’ boat and lighthouse mural. The rounded lines and colors of the design are very similar to the 1942-era in this country’s art history.”
Vander Bogart went on to say that many other communities have murals that are based from a specific time, citing Coquille’s large historic early 20th century mural depicting horses and buggies riding down an old town street. Other examples included Coos Bay’s three large images of Steve Prefontaine, the Coos Bay and University of Oregon track star from the late 1960s to early 1970s.
“All these murals are great, but the ‘Stitching Time, Weaving Cultures’ mural in Florence is the only one that can transport you in another dimension — if you let it,” said Vander Bogart.
Details of a ceremony to recognize the completion of the Marino-Heidel Mural were then discussed. This event is planned for Wednesday, Aug. 7, at 11 a.m.
Springer updated the group on the regional dignitaries are scheduled to participate in the unveiling, which will be hosted by Henry.
The remainder of the meeting was spent charting out the future course of PAC. Additional work will be done to solidify the plan to be presented to the city council in the next few weeks, with a finalized proposal delivered at a future council meeting sometime within the next 90 days.