City Council approves Public Art plan

The Ashland City Council wants to see options for different levels of public art around town and methods for funding those projects before the start of the city's budgeting process this spring.

However, whether the city will actually set aside public money for public art remains uncertain.

In 2005, the City Council wasn't satisfied with the Public Art Commission's proposal to use hotel taxes, property taxes, a portion of city construction project budgets or a mix of methods to provide about $45,000 to $60,000 per year for public art.

Instead, councilors directed the commissioners to develop a Public Arts Master Plan to guide the placement, selection and funding of art in public spaces.

After a series of meetings to gather residents' input, the Public Arts Commission returned to the City Council on Dec. 18, 2007 with a master plan. The council adopted that plan with a 5-1 vote.

The Public Arts Commission's first goal in the plan was to prepare a menu of funding options for council review before the start of the budgeting process.

"It's difficult to come up with specific projects without funding. Funding is really crucial," said Councilor Alice Hardesty, liaison to the commission, during the December meeting.

A handful of public art pieces have been installed around town in the last few years using mainly private funding. Public Arts Commissioners have discovered that some foundations won't give money to cities for art unless there is a public contribution.

"I hope we do have the wisdom and will to dedicate a permanent revenue stream to public art in our community," Councilor Eric Navickas said.

But Councilor Cate Hartzell &

who has long said the city has many other priorities that outweigh funding public art &

said the Public Arts Commission should not read the council's adoption of the master plan as support to approach the Citizens Budget Committee for money. She was the only councilor to vote against the plan's adoption.

The master plan encourages city departments to incorporate art into benches, sidewalks, stair railings, bridges and other practical areas. It also calls for the Planning Commission to consider changes to planning rules to require public art in large-scale developments.

Developers of large buildings already must choose at least four of six public amenities, such as public art or a water feature, sitting space, areas of sunlight and shade, outdoor eating areas or food vendors, wind protection or trees. The Public Arts Commission would like public art to be mandatory.

Such a move would create more public art in Ashland without using public money. However, Public Arts Commissioner and architect David Wilkerson said some developers are shying away from installing public art because they fear they will run afoul of the city's restrictive sign code.

Another goal in the master plan was to seek changes to Ashland's sign code, which restricts murals and sculptures.

While a council majority approved the plan, several councilors noted that changes to the sign code, if any, probably won't happen anytime soon.

Councilor Kate Jackson said changing the sign code will be a long, difficult process, but she respects the Public Arts Commission for setting the goal to review the code.

"I'm satisfied they're aware of the kinds of difficulties we may get into," she said.

Navickas said any changes to the sign code must be considered carefully to avoid opening the door to signs and figures that would mar Ashland. He noted the city needs to differentiate between commercial and public art.

Proposed changes would have to come back to the City Council for approval, Hardesty pointed out.

But Hartzell said the sign code shouldn't be tinkered with.

"I'm not ready to go there and say, 'Let's bring it on. Let's change it,'" she said.

The sign code drew attention in 2007 when attorney and developer Lloyd Haines installed murals on the underside of a bridge without city of Ashland or Oregon Department of Transportation approval. He had to remove the murals.

Sculptor Kevin Christman later sought permission to install an angel sculpture downtown in front of Soundpeace. But the Public Arts Commission found out that the sculpture would be illegal because the sign code bans human, animal or product sculptures that are used as signs.

Popular figures like Truffles the giant teddy bear in front of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Alfredo the waiter sculpture at the entrance to Wiley's Pasta are illegal, although the city of Ashland has never taken action against them.

The City Council approved language for the master plan that calls for public art to be located in areas where large numbers of people pass through or gather, including the downtown, other commercial areas and high-use parks. A process will also be developed so that neighborhoods can request public art, participate in fund-raising and develop criteria for selecting the art.

Hartzell said she supported the idea that art should be spread around, but she worried about inequities if residents can fund-raise for art in their own neighborhoods.

"What I'm concerned about is areas of high wealth in town having more art because they have more money," she said.

Hardesty said she believes that all people will be able to see public art because the master plan calls for art in high-use areas. She said she wants to see neighborhoods, including adults and children, involved in the public art process.

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