Public Art

Arts community, arts policy

Village Council members and local artists and arts supporters this week began a dialogue on the arts and a potential Village government arts policy at Council’s regular May 21 meeting. About 15 arts supporters attended, with both villagers and Council members later describing the dialogue as helpful.

“In many ways, this little tempest couldn’t have been more timely,” said Richard Lapedes. “It causes us to get our act together to bring the arts more into the forefront of our communal activity.”

The topic was discussion only on Monday night, and Council members Lori Askeland and Karen Wintrow were tasked with returning to Council with recommendations in June. A second forum on public arts policy, sponsored by the Yellow Springs Arts Council, will be held Saturday, June 2, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church.

The dialogue was in response to a controversy earlier this spring sparked when a few Village employees objected to paintings of nudes hung in the hallway of the Bryan Center, which the Arts Council was using as gallery space. Following the objections, more nudes were hung, and although the paintings, part of the annual Women’s Voices Out Loud exhibit, remained on display, Village leaders and local artists sparred over the appropriate use of Village-owned space for art. Askeland then organized the May 21 public forum, which included presentations from YSAC president Jerome Borchers and Village Law Director John Chambers. Artist Shayna McConville, who grew up in the village and is now the cultural arts manager for the City of Kettering, was to speak on how that community addresses art in public spaces. However, McConville, though present, was unable to speak on the advice of a lawyer because that city is currently facing a lawsuit.

At issue is whether Village government needs an arts policy at all, with some artists viewing any policy as censorship. In an introduction, Askeland urged all participants to consider their common goals.

“No one wants to quash creativity in town. We’re all on the same side,” Askeland said. “This is about the need to share space, and trying to provide some predictable and fair ways to share this space.”

Specifically, the Bryan Center hallway is outside Council chambers where Mayor’s Court is held, so that the space sometimes functions as a courthouse, Askeland has said. Village government has to consider that those who come before the court could see political or religious artwork in the hallway as an indication that they won’t be treated fairly in Yellow Springs.

The Bryan Center hallway space is not easily defined as either public or private, according to Law Director Chambers in his presentation. While some public spaces, such as parks, are spaces where all public expression is allowed, other public spaces, such as police departments, are off-limits to the public. A third type of public space offers a “limited public forum,” Chambers said, where “the friction comes” between free speech and those who don’t appreciate that speech.

“The courts have said that in limited public forums, the government has the right to establish reasonable rules about what can occur there,” Chambers said, stating that the Village needs a policy that allows “the use of space using clearly identified rules that are consistently applied.”

The Arts Council agrees that the Bryan Center hallway is not the appropriate place to display local art, according to Borchers in his presentation.

“The Arts Council is sensitive to the needs of villagers and Village workers,” he said, and plans to cease using the hallway as a gallery space.

However, the group believes that “the community needs a public multi-use arts space,” he said, and the group also proposes that Council form a commission for the arts to serve as mediator of public art conflicts and to support community art endeavors.

Several village artists who spoke at the forum questioned the need for a public arts policy. Such a policy, with its rules and regulations, might have discouraged the many public art projects she has taken on voluntarily, according to Nancy Mellon.

“Don’t stop what you’ve had for all these years,” Mellon said.

An emphasis on the temporal nature of art on display, and ensuring that all displays are time-limited, could be a way to avoid censorship of expression, according to Michael Jones, because those who are offended will be assured that the art “will go away” at some point, he said. “It will give people patience.”

YS Kids Playhouse Director John Fleming suggested that new Village employees might be oriented to life in Yellow Springs, so that controversial art doesn’t come as a surprise.

“Why not orient people to our values?’ he said.

That the art that sparked the controversy was offensive to some should not be surprising, according to Tony Dallas, who said “the role of art is to offend, to challenge.”

But Joan Edwards took issue with that statement, stating that, “There are many purposes of art and we need to think of all the different facets of art, not just one.” Also, Edwards stated, “I don’t think we have one set of values in this community. We have many values.”

Council members expressed a variety of views, with Rick Walkey stating discomfort with drafting a Village policy that prohibits some artistic content. But practical aspects of displaying art in Village-owned spaces are also important, according to Askeland, while to Hempfling, “It’s important to think about balance” between the needs of artists and the community. The current issue is also an opportunity to consider ways that the Village and Antioch College might collaborate more closely, she said. Wintrow stated that “we’re missing a big piece of the discussion,” and research needs to be done on how other communities address the issue.

“We all agree that we’re an art community,” said Gerry Simms, who encouraged villagers to work with Council to think of new ways to use local buildings, which may at some point become obsolete for their current use, for public art.

“We want to look at the assets we have and see how we can really make it an arts community,” he said. “We have to work together and use the whole community.”

In other Village business:

• Council unanimously voted to approve a local match of up to $107,000 for the Northern Gateway project. The project, which has been on hold for several years, involves the construction of a connector between a new parking lot on Cemetery Street and the Little Miami Scenic Trail, along with other amenities to enhance Yellow Springs as a bike-friendly town. The Village has been awarded a grant of up to $275,275 from the Federal Highway Administration for the project’s construction, and the money will be lost if the Village does not move ahead by June 1, according to Interim Village Manager Laura Curliss, who emphasized that the project offers many benefits to the village.

• Council unanimously approved signing on to the Blue Creek Wind Energy project in northern Ohio, as recommended by AMP, the Village’s municipal energy cooperative, for 300 kilowatts of energy. While the Village’s two energy consultants had recommended against the wind project, they did so with the assumption that the Village solar project would proceed, and that has not happened, Curliss said. The Village Energy Board recommended that Yellow Springs sign on to the wind project, according to Rick Walkey.

• Village Assistant Planner Ed Amrhein announced that the Village was recently awarded more than $300,000 from the Ohio Department of Transportation for the Safe Routes to Schools project. The grant awards Yellow Springs $308,000 in infrastructure costs, and $15,000 in non-infrastructure costs, according to Amrhein. The program is designed to enhance the village’s walkability, especially the ability of children to safely walk to school. Amrhein thanked the committee of villagers who worked on the application, including Dan Carrigan, Kate Anderson, Deanna Newsome and Sylvia Ellison.

• Council unanimously approved appointing Jeanna Breza to the Village Human Relations Commission.

• Curliss announced that the Gaunt Park pool will officially open this Friday, May 25, at 11 a.m. for lap swimming.

 

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