Oct. 9, 2019 — The Public Art Committee (PAC) made significant strides towards continued existence Monday morning at a joint work session held with the Florence City Council. All councilors were present for the latest in a series of meetings called for by Mayor Henry, with support from the council, to determine the future nature of the relationship between the committee and the city.
The turmoil earlier this year surrounding the installation of the “Stitching Time, Weaving Cultures” mural, installed last spring on the Lincoln Public Utilities District Building on the corner of Highway 126 and Highway 101, prompted a reexamination of the relationship between the city and PAC.
There was significant criticism leveled at the members of PAC and City Council regarding the mural’s design, placement and even the colors selected by the team of Marino-Heidel Studios, which is based in Portland.
While Henry has repeatedly stated his support for the arts and participates in many public art activities, most recently attending the sale and installation of pieces by Florence area artist Pancho Clark at Old Town Park, he has taken the lead in questioning the funding mechanisms, decision making and leadership of the PAC. His dissatisfaction with the process, and the individuals engaged in that process, has been apparent.
This dissatisfaction has also led the PAC to what many in the arts community fear is the brink of dissolution.
The questions of “if and how” public art might better work as a function of the city became a point of contention, discussion and eventually acrimony which ultimately led to the removal of Councilor Joshua Greene as the ex-officio representative of the city council to the PAC.
Greene has been replaced by Councilor Woody Woodbury, who was appointed by Henry to fill the ex-officio position on PAC.
The volatile nature of the controversy has also led to a situation where the PAC was given an ultimatum to significantly change the manner in which they operated or face termination as a city supported committee.
Monday’s work session was the latest step towards reestablishing a civil and productive discourse surrounding this issue, as an agreement was reached on initial acceptance of a proposal delivered by PAC Chairperson Harlen Springer to the council.
Springer presented a heavily edited and modified Public Arts Committee Work plan, based on the original document created in 2015, that significantly alters the input and oversight the city council has in the public art process.
The new plan calls for an added member of the city council, in addition to the ex-officio member of the council, to sit on the selection subcommittee. The other major changes were evening public meetings for the purpose of allowing more people to provide feedback to the committee and city council. Perhaps most meaningful, the new workplan clearly recognizes that final approval for all public art installation rests with the city council.
Springer has been a lightening rod for criticism directed towards the PAC and he has worked diligently over the last few months to avert the dissolution of the PAC by addressing many of the concerns shared by the councilors.
During Monday’s meeting, Springer was first asked by Henry about recent resignations from the committee as he directed attention of the participants to resignation letters received from PAC members Ron Hildenbrand and Winette Tomeny.
Springer acknowledged the committee has had some turnover, explaining some change is to be expected as volunteers often have other commitments that require their attention, which was reportedly the case with former PAC member Tomeny.
“One thing that makes the Public Art Committee successful is that we have a very robust subcommittee system and that means when you come on the committee, we have other work that you need to do on these subcommittees, to make the whole thing work, and sometimes people realize they just don’t have the time, ” Springer said.
The workplan discussed Monday was created with the help of city staff, primarily City Recorder Kelly Weese, the city’s ex-officio PAC member, and City Manager Erin Reynolds, who recapped the purpose of the session.
“This meeting is really to frame a discussion regarding what the city council has shared of their thoughts on the Public Art Guidelines and the workplan proposed by the Public Art Committee,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds and Weese have been placed in the difficult position of incorporating the comments provided by councilors generated at prior work sessions, into the new guidelines for the PAC, while working to retain the committee both have been involved with over the past few years.
Springer was clear during his remarks to assure councilors that the PAC has heard the concerns of the public, and the council, and has taken dramatic steps to respond to those concerns.
“We want this to be an open discussion. We want to work with the city council, and we want to respond to the questions and potential revisions that have been made,” Springer said. “We have in fact made significant revisions to the guidelines that we think improve the committee. We want to share those with you in an open fashion and, most importantly, we want this to work.”
Councilor Ron Preisler has been a supporter of the PAC and he made a brief statement in that regard.
“I believe the PAC has made, and will continue to make, a strong economic contribution to our great community if we choose to support them. We are unquestionably a leading tourist destination in our state and the more points of interest that can capture the attention of our visitors will prolong their stay in our city. We have made a great start and we need to continue the momentum,” he said.
Springer then went through many of the suggested changes to the PAC workplan, providing insight and reasoning behind their inclusion in the new workplan. He fielded a few questions from the councilors before finishing his comments.
The response from the councilors was positive once the details of the changes were clarified, and so was the tone of the discussion. The new guidelines that will serve as the template for the PAC are as follows.
Public Arts Guidelines:
• Reaffirm and solidify city council’s control of the public art program regarding the budget and the organizational structure
• Update and extend the requirements of committee’s public outreach process, including the addition of three flow charts simplifying the proposed public outreach process
• Subdividing types of projects into three categories – Small Projects (Under $5,000), Medium Projects (Between $5,000 and 19,999), and Large Projects (Over $20,000)
• Larger Selection Committees — including two Public Art Committee members, one city council member, one to two direct project stakeholders, and two to three citizens-at-large (appointed through an application process)
• Evening Meetings — PAC proposes to hold meetings in the evenings where decisions will be made about choosing pieces of art to add to the public art program collection
• City Council Presentation — For large projects, the PAC will present final project renderings at a City Council meeting and ask for input on the potential selections from Council before making their final decision.
• Public Outreach — The Public Art Committee proposes to publish information on City of Florence website and social media pages, mail notices to property owners, businesses and residents near to project site, prepare public service announcement for local media, and post notices at public sites like the Florence Post Office, Siuslaw Public Library, Florence Events Center, local grocery stores, etc.
• Added an additional clause regarding the City’s commitment to including local artists in the Public Art Program’s future acquisitions.
As the work session ended there was general agreement that a path forward, which retains the PAC, was possible and the committees amended workplan would be updated and most likely be presented at the upcoming Nov. 4 City Council meeting for approval.