Council OKs new arts manual

Arts Commission agrees to relinquish control over capital-projects treatments

It isn’t quite what the ad-hoc committee formed to create it wanted, and it took more than six years to write, but the city’s new Public Art Policy Manual is now in effect, following City Council approval of the 23-page document at its meeting Tuesday (Oct. 4).

Most of the considerable controversy surrounding the document had to do with the aesthetic treatments added to city capital-improvement projects, such as the roundabouts and bridge metal work included on the Manzanita Avenue Corridor Reconstruction Project.

The original Public Art Policy Manual, adopted in 1996, gives final authority in the vetting and recommendation of these aesthetic treatments to the city Arts Commission. But that’s not the way it played out in practice. In practice, capital-projects staff managed their projects, including any aesthetic elements added.

Over time, a compromise of sorts developed, whereby the Arts Commission pre-qualified a list of artists with the skills and experience to work as part of a project team that might also include building and landscape designers and civil engineers. But that person ultimately reported to the capital-projects director, not the Arts Commission, a process that some people—on the commission and off—thought wrongly bypassed the public’s chosen public-art authorities.

The ad hoc committee selected to update the manual submitted its recommendations in July 2010, urging that the commission re-establish control over the process. But city staff didn’t support that, and following a review in November 2010, the commission largely accepted staff’s recommendation that the capital-projects staff retain management control over its projects.

To Gregg Payne, a former arts commissioner and member of the ad-hoc committee, this was a mistake. The new manual “removes Arts Commission representation and public oversight, and conveniently, retroactively legitimizes years of policy violations,” he writes in a recent letter to the council.

But as Cris Carroll, the city’s community development manager, explained in a post-meeting phone call, capital-improvement projects are team efforts in which an artistic consultant is just one of many contributors. Giving the Arts Commission final say-so on aesthetic treatments “destroys the team,” she said.

The new manual offers a compromise. Capital-projects staff will continue to select artists from the pre-qualified list. In addition, staff will make two presentations to the commission, one when the initial design is completed, and another when the design is in final form and prior to construction.

Lucille Wanee, the arts commissioner who chaired the ad-hoc committee, told the council she was “not totally happy with the manual, particularly with the part on aesthetic treatments.” But she acknowledged that capital-projects staff had been more collaborative of late. Then she urged the Arts Commission to be vigilant in watching over new projects.

Another commissioner, Ginny Crawford, stressed that the manual was an “ongoing conversation” and that it would “always be evolving and self-improving.”

The issue of capital projects is important because, as Councilman Mark Sorensen pointed out, about 80 percent of the money being spent on public art is going there.

Councilman Andy Holcombe enthusiastically endorsed the manual, saying, “It may may not be perfect, but it’s beautiful” because it’s a compromise, “and that’s what makes it beautiful.”

The only council member to vote nay (Councilwoman Mary Flynn was absent) was Mark Sorensen, who said he thought the process for handling capital projects needed more structure.

Interviewed during a later break, he said he thought the process was still “fuzzy,” especially when it comes to which artists get picked to work on projects.

In addition to resolving the capital-projects issue, the new manual establishes an annual call to solicit ideas for citizen-initiated art projects, requires additional staff reporting on projects, and adds a section on project maintenance.