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Council eyes public art policy

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Village Council considered a draft art policy at its Oct. 15 meeting as a first step towards defining the types of art allowed in public spaces and the procedures for their approval.

Council President Judith Hempfling, who urged the creation of an art policy in March in the wake of a controversy over nude paintings at the John Bryan Community Gallery, said it was a first discussion and that Council would reconsider the matter at an unspecified future date.

Representatives from a local ad hoc organization, the Public Places Resource Group, asked Council at the meeting to take a broader approach by considering all potential uses of public spaces, including recreation and tree-planting, rather than just art.

“I would like us to take a long view and not be overwhelmed at immediately how hard the task is,” said Dennie Eagleson, who represented the informal group of local artists and advisers at the meeting.

The Public Places Resource Group has been meeting since June to define its own process, which entails gathering public opinion, creating a Village land use map, and outlining ways to handle complaints about public art. Group members had hoped to collaborate with Council.

“We are asking you to include an interested group of citizens to think about this and be very involved in creating policy and engaging public comment and discussion,” Eagleson said. Village resident Richard Lapedes suggested that Council meet with the group, which has some skills to offer, because “for a minimum amount of time you could get a maximum amount of useable data,” he said.

However, Council members said they preferred to focus on an art policy and to move forward with their own process to keep staff involvement to a minimum.

“I don’t know that we know where the time for that partnership is going to come from because it’s going to require a lot of staff,” Council member Karen Wintrow said, adding that collaboration wouldn’t relieve the responsibility of village government in creating the final policy. Wintrow said the priority is getting an arts policy in place so that a planned Yellow Springs Arts Council sculpture symposium in fall 2013 could move forward on public land. Hempfling agreed on a limited focus.

“Thinking about the use of all our public spaces is beyond our capacity,” Hempfling said. “We wanted to look at this piece first — the piece of public art in public spaces. We thought we’d at least start there.”

Village Manager Laura Curliss prepared the first draft of the policy and drew largely from the Village Charter and existing Village ordinances that deal with uses of Village property and rights of way. For example, Chapter 1021 of the Codified Ordinances empowers the Village Manager to grant, or deny, permits to those wishing to use Village buildings, parks, sidewalks, streets and other properties for artistic, or other purposes.

“I [am in charge of] setting minimum aesthetic standards for art in the right-of-way — that’s in the code and I get to enforce that,” Curliss said at the meeting. She added that she would appreciate help in developing such standards.

Curliss also proposed a set of guiding principles, policies and procedures for four different types of art — transient performance art, longer public performances, visual art installations in public hallways and art installations requiring foundations on public land.

Regarding transient performance art, which includes street buskers and guerilla fabric artists, the Village would only get involved if there were a complaint and would only act to make sure that public safety is protected and rights of way are passable, Curliss said. No permits or agreements with the Village would be required.

“It’s spontaneous art and what [artists] love about it is it’s guerrilla art so they’re not going get a permit for it,” Curliss said, adding that from a legal point of view, such art is like litter since its is not owned by anyone and could be stolen at any time.

For longer performances or events on Village land, such as Street Fair and Cyclops Festival, the Village should consider that one group’s use of the land precludes another’s use, Curliss said. In addition, parking, cleanup and the use of police officers should be a factor. A Bryan Center building policy already exists and event permits and fees are required.

But policies are still needed for art that is installed in the hallways of public buildings, Curliss said. Those spaces are legally considered a “limited public forum,” and municipalities can decide how they’re used. Curliss recommended that the Village either own the art or lease it, as other communities often do, and that a written agreement be signed. Policies are also needed regarding long-term installations such as sculptures, which have a “high impact” on the Village, she said. Because they could be vandalized or stolen, the Village would need to have funds on hand to cover those expenses.

Hempfling said that Council’s input on public art policies is critical, since previous public art efforts were completed only with Manager permission. She pointed out that Council was not involved in the 2009 outdoor sculptures competition in which the “Springs” sign and “Flock of Hands” were erected on Village land. In response to a question on how the Village would engage the broader community in the discussion, Hempfling said that Council hopes to gather ideas from residents at Council meetings.

Jerome Borchers, a member of the Public Places Resource Group, said in an interview after the council meeting that he was happy the process is moving forward after many years of discussions, but that he thinks a citizens group would help the process. And he said a more comprehensive public spaces plan is still needed.

“We appreciate that they want to put a policy in place so that the sculpture symposium can find spaces to put art, but in the longer term a land use map and a better system of arbitration is part of the mix,” Borchers said. In addition to providing expert voices, his group can offer financial support, Borchers added. The group has already lined up an anonymous donor and intends to go after other grants to offset costs of the land use map.

The proposed land use map would provide a visual representation of the potential uses of public land, according to a Public Places Resource Group document. The plan would help the village look at the big picture and decide on the best use of various public spaces, whether it be used for trees, sports activities, the arts or kept as open space, according to Brian Housh of the Arts Council.

“When we sat around the table it didn’t make sense to prefer the art over other uses like trees,” Housh said. “We started to look at other public art plans and we realized that there was really a broader scope to consider and it is a lot more about planning than policy.”

The Public Places Resource Group was formed after a public art forum in June attended by about 50 villagers. That forum came about when several Village employees complained about nudity and sexual content in artwork at the annual “Women’s Voices Out Loud” exhibit on display at John Bryan Community Gallery, located on the second floor of the Bryan Center.

At the forum, the Yellow Springs Arts Council said it would no longer use the John Bryan Community Gallery and would look for a more appropriate location to house its permanent collection. The Arts Council also suggested in May that Council create an official Arts Commission, which would mediate arts controversies, but it later withdrew the idea.


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