Ashland plans $100,000 public art project

The city of Ashland is starting a process to find public art that could cost up to $100,000 for a prominent downtown location.

A large traffic median between the Ashland Public Library and Ashland Fire Station No. 1 has long been earmarked for a major public art sculpture.

Known as the gateway island, the space marks the entryway to Ashland's downtown for people coming from areas to the southeast, including Exit 14 and Southern Oregon University.

Ashland's Public Arts Commission is asking interested artists to submit information about their qualifications, including their resumés and images of past work, by March 31.

"I can tell you that the commission is envisioning a piece of art that creates excitement and visual interest, one that enhances the experience of entering our downtown core and one that, over time, becomes iconic to our city," said Sandy Friend, vice-chairwoman of the Public Arts Commission.

The selection process is open to artists in Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho and Montana. Students cannot apply.

The arts commission debated whether to limit the pool to artists in the Rogue Valley or Oregon, but decided to expand the search area.

"It's about casting the net as wide as possible for the best possible artists working in public art," said city of Ashland Management Analyst Ann Seltzer, city staff liaison to the all-volunteer arts commission.

Ashland has sometimes faced criticism for spending public art dollars on sculptures from artists outside the area.

On past, smaller public art projects, Ashland has occasionally limited the geographic area from which artists could come.

A 2010 utility box painting project that was limited to Jackson County attracted only one design idea, prompting the city to call for more submissions.

Seltzer said the arts commission also discussed whether to open up the gateway island project to artists nationwide, but decided to restrict the area to the northwest and California.

"We thought we should be honoring artists in the Pacific Northwest and California for their work," Friend said.

By the end of June, the arts commission will review the submissions from artists about their credentials and select up to five artists or artist teams to continue on in the selection process.

The finalists must visit Ashland before October and then begin creating public art proposals for the gateway island.

The finalists will each receive $500 for travel expenses.

A year later, the finalists must return to Ashland and present their ideas to the community and the arts commission in September 2015.

"The community will be weighing in on this heavily," Friend said.

Each finalist will be paid $2,500 for that phase of the process plus another $500 each for travel expenses.

A finalist team will receive the same compensation as an individual finalist — not compensation for every member of the team.

An artwork selection panel — separate from the arts commission — will notify the winning artist or artist team before the end of 2015.

The artist or team will receive up to $100,000 to cover final design, engineering, fabrication, shipping, installation and other costs.

While that amount might seem expensive, Seltzer said the figure is not uncommon for significant public art pieces.

The public art will be installed in the fall of 2016.

Money for the project is slated to come from the city's hotel tax — 3 percent of which is dedicated to public art, Seltzer said.

Hotel tax money for the project has been accumulating over time and the city expects enough funding will be available by the time the artwork selection panel picks a winning artist or artist team, Seltzer and Friend said.

Meanwhile, the city may seek funding for the gateway art project from the National Endowment for the Arts and ArtPlace America.

The Ashland City Council will decide on Tuesday whether to give permission to seek those grants.

The arts commission would apply for $25,000 from the NEA and $100,000 from ArtPlace, which is financed by foundations and national banks.

Neither grant would require matching funds from Ashland, city staff said.

Friend said the arts commission could pursue other grants as well, such as a grant to fund outdoor lighting for the public art piece.

Other communities have used traffic medians as sites for public art.

Most notably in Oregon, Bend has installed more than 20 public art sculptures in the center of traffic roundabouts that dot the city.

The sculptures range from colorful kayaks reaching into the air to a metal circle that frames a distant mountain to a school of metal salmon elevated on poles.

For more information on the gateway island public art project or to apply, visit

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or Follow her at

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