Which should come first – policy or art?

By Brian McGillivary

The Record-Eagle

 

TRAVERSE CITY (MCT) — A sudden influx of public art proposals has Mayor Michael Estes pushing to construct a policy before the city’s landscape becomes adorned with potentially controversial renderings.

Three groups recently proposed public art displays in the downtown: Rotary Charities wants to fund a memorial likeness of former Downtown Development Executive Director Bryan Crough outside of the City Opera House; The Traverse City Coast Guard City Committee wants to erect a sculpture to signify the city’s designation as an official Coast Guard City at the entrance to downtown; and a group of area residents want to create a display in Clinch Park that recognizes the area’s first Native American inhabitants.

At the same time, the city’s DDA is at work on a draft public arts ordinance. Estes wants that potential legislation immediately moved to the city commission for discussion, regardless of whether the DDA has finished its work.

“I don’t want to try and solve these art projects and then adopt a policy that is totally contrary to what we have just done,” Estes said. “We have these projects on the table right now, let’s have a policy that will address all of them. We need to make this a priority.”

The draft ordinance would set up a Traverse City Arts Commission comprised of members of the city commission, DDA and city parks and planning commissions, as well as people with training in the arts. The commission would set up a master plan for locations to fund public art in the city and appoint jury committees of people in the arts to select artists for commissioned pieces and to judge donated works.

Funding would come in part from a 1 percent assessment on all construction or reconstruction projects done by the city, such as streets, sewer lines, or park improvements. Under that policy, next year’s $2 million in city street projects would generate $20,000 for a public art fund.

City Commissioner Gary Howe, who sits on the DDA committee that drafted the ordinance and the group proposing the Native American art, said the city commission doesn’t need a new policy to move the existing projects forward.

“We can work on them simultaneously,” he said.

Commissioner Tim Werner agreed the commission could work on both at the same time, but said that includes an element of risk.

“Art can be a difficult thing and no matter how wonderful it is some people won’t care for it,” Werner said. “If that group is small, we’re fine. But if it’s more controversial, than we don’t have a policy that we can point to that we followed.

“I personally feel we are long overdue for some public art,” he said.

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Posted by Tribune News Services