Friday, January 23, 2009

BREAKING NEWS...City Manager issues recommendation on public art

The agenda for Monday's City Council meeting has been posted online. City Manager Michael Beck's staff recommendation states, in part, that"in consideration of the dissatisfaction expressed by the PCOC board with the exterior artworks ... [Council should] refer this matter back to staff and the Arts and Culture Commission for consideration of alternatives."

City Council may still vote on the matter, however. Click on the link at right to view the entire agenda and attachments.


  1. Well, it sounds easy enough. The staff report implies, as if its some sort of cornerstone of social etiquette, that sculpture existing in the domain of architecture is meant to decorate. Buildings house jobs and the important moneyed activities of culture and commerce, but sculptures outside them are footnotes. They're accents, colors, touches of flair, and what good is such decoration if it doesn't please? If it's not doing its job, then move it, change it, it's just decoration after all.

    Squishy territory for a City Council to tread, especially when a process they have created has been carefully and successfully followed. A fully inclusive process, as well, meant to prevent undue political pressures and protect the broad public interest -- and to solicit, identify, research, and approve competent and profound works of public art. It would be a shame for the City Council to go the way of previous government agencies trying to tame art controversies after-the-fact. Capitulation to artistic criticism and abandonment under pressure of their own sound policies, is the way of censorship.

    This city has a proactive history in the arts, stellar world-class arts institutions have grown up here, and a population of artists, musicians, writers, teachers in the arts, and art aficionados live here, not to mention a ton of wealthy arts-funders mingling among its civic leaders. To them, art is not a footnote or decoration to be tossed aside when it becomes a potential political liability -- for them, art is the main event. The Civic Center is not the private dwelling place of the PCOC board. It's a public space and the process for selecting these two internationally-recognized scuptors was a public process. The City Council should support it.

  2. The City Manager has it that the PCOC Board is dissatisfied with "the exterior artworks developed as a result of the [selection] process" that was utilized to decide upon the artwork to be produced, a process in which representatives of the PCOC Board participated.

    This characterization of the PCOC position appears to be odds with the PCOC Board's public statement that it is the siting of the artworks that is the issue, making it clear that - at this point in the game, despite its participation in the process that agreed upon the artworks to be produced and the sites of their installation - it does not want ANY public artworks situated in two locations upon which the agreed upon artworks are to be installed.

    Whatever the real issues are that have gotten us to this point, the fact remains that PCOC representatives participated in the process that led to both the approval of the artworks to be produced and their siting, a process that was scrupulously followed by the Arts Commission.

    One can only hope that at tomorrow's City Council meeting the leadership of the Arts Commission will staunchly defend the process that was employed and make clear to the Council members that it is not in the public's interest to allow the subversion of a democratic process, that to yield to the PCOC's attempts to muscle its way out of a decision making process in which their representatives participated sends the wrong message to those who believe in the rule of law.