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Sun, Dec. 08

Public art policy aims to prevent future disagreements

PRESCOTT - If sufficient guidelines for public art had been in effect in 2011, officials say the community uproar over the Granite Creek Park bench may never have occurred.

On Tuesday, Feb. 24, the Prescott City Council took a step to try to avoid similar controversies by approving a seven-page policy that will guide future acceptance of public art on city property.

Among other things, the policy calls for a review of public art proposals by a five-member standing committee, and, ultimately, approval by the City Council.

Before the vote, Councilman Jim Lamerson alluded to the community debate that ensued after the city removed a mosaic-covered bench from Granite Creek Park in the early morning hours of Oct. 24, 2011.

The bench had become contentious after Prescott College student Kristin Anthony placed it in the park as a part of a school project. The bench - a collaborative effort featuring a colorful array of designs and symbols such as a peace sign and a police badge - had elicited both support and criticism.

Although Anthony said she had received prior city approval, the city maintained that she had revised her plans along the way. After weeks of discussion, the city dismantled the bench.

Had the art policy been in place at the time, Lamerson said, "We may not have had the bench debacle."

Local museum director Cindy Gresser, who served on an ad hoc group tasked with proposing a draft policy, said after the meeting that it was the bench controversy that initially got her involved in the policy discussion.

"That was a sad thing, and it could have been avoided," Gresser said.

The ad hoc group, which also included a number of local artists, began working on the draft policy in 2012. Gresser said she asked for city assistance in about 2013, and Deputy City Manager Alison Zelms helped with the draft.

The policy states that its purpose is "to govern the process for acceptance of works of art by the Art in Public Places Committee for recommendation to the City Council for inclusion in the city's public art collection."

It sets general standards for public art based upon fundamental criteria, such as: artistic merit; physical condition of the artwork; history and provenance of the artwork; compatibility with the city's public art program and collection; availability of an appropriate location for siting on city property; requirements for installation, storage, and maintenance; and liability consideration and issue of public safety.

The process involves review by the committee, a recommendation to the City Council, review by the council, and a council vote to either accept or decline the artwork for the city.

Gresser told the council that she would present a recommendation on the makeup

of the standing committee to the city by March 10.

Among the first tasks of the committee will be an inventory of all existing city art.

"The people of Prescott need to know we're an arts-based community," Gresser said of the importance of the inventory.

While uncertain about the number of works of art that already exist within the city, Gresser said the inventory would look into a variety of pieces, including paintings, statues, and murals.

Councilman Greg Lazzell emphasized that the city's public art policy would apply only to art on city property, and would not affect art on private land or other government property.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks

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