Public Art Committee moves past mural controversy

Community involvement sought for ‘Public Paint’ Day planned for Rhody Days

April 24, 2019 — The Florence Public Art Committee met Monday afternoon at the Florence Events Center for its April monthly meeting, with some significant changes in store in the future for the group.

The PAC garnered considerable attention over the past few months with the selection of a design for a public mural on the Central Lincoln Public Utilities building, located on the corner of Quince Street and Highway 101.

The public response to the design was mixed, with many residents expressing the opinion that the images selected for the mural — or the modernistic design itself — were inappropriate.

The final approval for the installation of the mural was given at last month’s Florence City Council meeting after hours of discussion and testimony.

City staff supported the approval of the mural after presentations from Florence Planning Director Wendy FarleyCampbell made clear, at the time, the criterion to be considered were based on land use codes, and that it was not a vote on content or placement of the mural.

The mural was approved April 1 by the council on a 3-2 vote.

The tumult surrounding the mural — the first major piece of public art installed by the PAC — raised the visibility of the group and the role the committee plays in the selection and placement of public art.

This heightened awareness resulted in a larger public turnout for this month’s meeting than in previously months, with more than a dozen community members in attendance.

There were few public comments to begin the meeting, most reiterating the sentiment that the themes used in the approved mural were not “representative of Florence” in the speakers’ opinions.

Harlen Springer, Chairman for the PAC, turned the focus from convincing city councilors to support the Quince Street mural to an important public outreach aspect of the project: The upcoming installation of the mural, which is scheduled to take place during the 112th annual Rhododendron Festival in May.

Springer wanted to make sure that the PAC members were aware that what is being referred to as a “Public Paint” will take place on Friday, May 17, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“The ‘Public Paint’ is where the public gets a chance participate in creating this mural,” Springer said. “What the artist does is have paints laid out and it’s kind of like a paint by numbers … and the public would have a chance to get involved in the painting themselves. We are also going to be inviting some of the schools to participate and that should be really cool for them.”

Next, Community and Economic Development Assistant Sarah Moehrke and Springer discussed the makeup of the various subcommittees of PAC. Members of the PAC briefly discussed the responsibility of the different sub-committees and settled on their desired assignments.

One of the major ramifications involving the differing opinions of the Quince Street mural was the proposed removal by the city council of Florence Urban Renewal Agency (FURA) funding for future PAC projects once its current financial commitments are met.  

The end result would be that FURA will no longer finance any public art purchases.

Springer repeatedly emphasized this critical change to the committee.

“Any project that we want to do, like the mural for local artists or replacement pieces for Art Exposed, we will need to raise funds [ourselves],” he said. “Funding is not as robust as it once was and we need to keep in mind that anything we want to do, we must figure out how we will pay for it.”

Springer also mentioned the city has decided to eliminate PAC’s use of a contracted grant writer, using staff to write future grant proposals instead. This change will necessitate PAC members becoming more involved in the process of obtaining grants for the overall program or for specific projects that are approved by the committee.

The next PAC project to be completed is a mural that will be installed on the steps of the Siuslaw River Bridge.

The property is owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), and the agency has responded to the city’s mural proposal with structural improvements that would be required for approval. ODOT’s concerns have to do with ADA accessibility, as the handrails on the steps are positioned on the inside of the rails rather than on the outside, as required by Federal law.

ODOT also has concerns with the lighting that would be a part of the installation, fearing the lights chosen would not provide the needed amount of illumination.

These concerns should be dealt with by the time the installation begins later this summer, according to Moehrke.

The other major piece of business tackled by the PAC was the approval of the relevant portions of the City Work Plan for 2019. Weese went over the plan with members and, with little discussion, approved the wording used in the plan.

The next Public Art Committee meeting will be held at Florence City Hall on May 13.

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