City Council chambers become temporary art gallery

The Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers is normally a place to make decisions about issues such as affordable housing and utility rate increases.

But the room where the City Council meets recently became a temporary gallery.

People who came to a council meeting last Tuesday to offer their views on development proposals and a proposed nudity ban around schools were treated to views of paintings hanging on the walls. The council chambers were also open for viewing during the middle of the day last Thursday and Friday, and again during the evening for the First Friday Art Walk.

Artist Janet Essley of White Salmon, Wash., used dresses and shirts as canvases on which she painted portraits of women from around the world working at sewing machines in garment factories. In her artist's statement, Essley said she hoped to show the impact of globalization on all our lives.

"Each portrait is of an individual person whose hopes and dreams are as worthy as our own," she said.

While art in a government meeting space might be unusual, the paintings do tie in with a 2008 Ashland City Council decision that the city will not buy employees' uniforms from sweatshops. The council voted for the city of Ashland to join a consortium that monitors factories and pools information about where to buy sweatshop-free clothing.

Essley's paintings, which are part of a traveling exhibit, were brought to Ashland through the efforts of Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice, a group that campaigned for passage of the sweatshop-free uniforms policy, as well as the Ashland Public Arts Commission.

The paintings were taken down on Saturday after their one-week showing in the council chambers. But more art could be on its way.

City of Ashland Management Analyst Ann Seltzer, the city staff liaison to the Public Arts Commission, said commissioners are interested in developing a policy for indoor art displays in public buildings. They will take up the issue at their next meeting.

"The commission is hoping they can do more of it in the future," Seltzer said.

The Public Arts Commission will meet from 8:15 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. on Friday in the Community Development Building, 51 Winburn Way. Meetings are open to the public.

For the past few years, the commission worked to change Ashland's restrictive rules on outdoor signs, murals and sculptures. That has paved the way for a flurry of new outdoor public art projects, including an angel sculpture downtown and a tile peace mural in front of the Ashland Public Library.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or

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