March 27, 2019 — The City of Florence’s next public art installation has been the subject of extensive community discussion in recent months, taking place on social media platforms, the Siuslaw News Opinion page and at local gatherings.
The latest addition to the public art puzzle being assembled in and around the city is a large, visually striking two-paneled mural entitled, “Stitching Time, Weaving Cultures.” The installation will cover two wall surfaces on the south and east sides of the Central Lincoln Public Utilities District Building, located at the corner of Highway 126 and Quince Street. It is scheduled to begin during the upcoming Rhododendron Festival in May.
The selection of this particular piece is the result of an arduous decision process undertaken by the city’s Public Art Committee (PAC), with many opportunities for public input along the way. However, this work has mostly gone unnoticed by the public until the final design was shared at a PAC meeting earlier this year, which then engendered strong community response.
That concern was not in evidence Monday, as few residents spoke during the public comments portion of the group’s monthly meeting.
Harlen Springer, Chairperson for PAC, has been involved with the effort to bring public art to the attention of the Florence City Council and to the residents of the Florence area since before PAC began in July 2015.
Springer has also been insistent regarding the potential financial benefits of the inclusion of public art displays in and around Florence. He and other members of the committee see art as a critical component of attracting tourists and perhaps even future residents to the area.
Since PAC added new members in January, City Recorder Kelli Weese and committee members took the opportunity Monday to review the history of PAC and the criteria used during the selection process of art commissioned by the city. It was also a chance to address community objections, some of which were about the 125-foot-long mural, and some of which were about the overall process and criteria used to select and award the contract.
In his presentation, Springer used a series of images and a comprehensive timeline to review in detail the many steps that led from the beginning of the committee and its public art push to the final results, which are the “Stitching Time” murals.
The vibrant, modernistic panels were designed and created by Marino Heidel Studios, based in Portland, Ore.
According to the principal artists Angelina Marino and Joel Heidel, the piece is designed as a two-part tribute to the area’s multicultural traditions and to the iconic architectural elements associated with Florence. The two have collaborated on a wide assortment of public art projects over the years, the results of which are available to view on the internet.
Marino is the lead on the project and her work has been featured on many murals across the state and across the country.
In a phone interview, she said the project has been tailored to be culturally relevant. She referred the public to a fuller statement provided to PAC members at the Monday meeting:
“The mural celebrates folk arts and speaks to cultural interchange. In a contemporary and original manner, this mural also stitches together ideas that represent the Florence area. The imagery is inspired by past and present folk arts of the sewing and weaving practices of many cultures. Native flora and fauna such as bear grass, cattails and tanned hides were used to create clothing, and flowers and other plants were used to create dyes used by many people, including the Kuitsh and Siuslaw people.”
A main part of Springer’s presentation was the inclusion of members from the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians in the creation process of the murals.
“We also went to the tribes because the depiction of people is of two Native Americans in the design, so we wanted to make sure that we were being accurate in our depiction of Native American peoples,” Springer said. “We went to the Cultural Council and they had some very good suggestions, which we incorporated into our modified design. And then they approved the final design.”
Springer also addressed at length the concern that the PAC process was not open and transparent during the selection process.
“In the summer of 2018 we sent out a call to artists using the company Call for Entries, or CAFÉ. CAFÉ is a national and internationally known website that most artists use when they want to find out exhibits that are available to them, and it is free to artists,” he said. “We received 123 applicants from 25 states and countries. We took these entries and we used a rubric to score all of the entries and the top 25 were selected to move forward.”
Springer then went over the final stages of the process, which narrowed the field to five artists.
He also mentioned that the public was invited to participate with the inclusion of two citizens at large on the selection subcommittee.
“The subcommittee brought the five finalists to the full PAC and we said, ‘Here are the five we believe are at the very top,’” Springer said. “The full public art committee unanimously selected the three that would take the next step.”
The final three artists presented the PAC with three renderings of their ideas for the murals before the committee unanimously selected the winner.
“We had the full PAC view all nine of the renderings so they could see not just what we selected but the others that were in the running,” he said. “And they unanimously selected the Marino Heidel entry.”
PAC member Annalee Griffis, who attends Siuslaw High School, said, “I am a student and I feel like the youth of Florence are craving more contemporary art. They’ve never been outside Florence or the confines of this town and they have never seen art like this here. Some people feel this is too ‘big city’ and this isn’t what they like about Florence. But there are going to be more projects.
“I think a really big part of progress is having diversity — and to be a ‘City in Motion,’ we need to be diverse.”
The next step in the approval process for the mural will take place at the Monday, April 1, Florence City Council meeting, which will be held at the Florence Events Center, 715 Quince St., at 5:30 p.m. The meeting has been moved to the events center in anticipation of larger than usual turnout.
At that time, the council will have the final say on the approval of the mural, but will only be considering a limited number of factors.
According to Weese, these factors have to do with meeting Planning Code requirements addressing murals, and not developments or actions taken earlier in the selection process.
“Planning Department staff will talk about if the mural meets the code criteria, within the Florence City Code regarding murals,” Weese said. “What they are going to be looking at is whether or not it fits Florence’s culture, from lots of different perspectives, and whether or not it fits into that neighborhood, does it have historic significance and does it reflect pieces of Florence’s identity.”
Weese reminded community members interested in commenting on the murals to either send an email to City Hall or come to the meeting.
The meeting will be at the events center at 5:30 p.m. on April 1. Those who wish to address the council will need to fill out a speaker card, available at ci.florence.or.us/council, before the meeting.