Staff works to solidify vision for citywide public art

The city of Claremont is making plans to build upon its artistic aesthetic with the creation of a $50,000 public art master plan.

Claremont residents and stakeholders gathered at the Hughes Center late last month to review a 72-page document outlining ideas for community art displays and providing a framework for how public art is selected.

A community art program and art ordinance were first adopted by the city in 1997 in an attempt to enhance Claremont’s aesthetics and cultural quality, according to Melissa Vollaro, community and human services manager. Public Art Coordinator Francine Baker was appointed to carry out the various elements of the art program, which includes tracking the city’s public art inventory, rotating art exhibits and art installations.  

In August 2012, the Claremont City Council approved the hiring of consultant Gail M. Goldman Associates, LLC in order to update the city’s community art program and adopt a public art master plan to more clearly define the process of selecting public art.

“It helps us take a look at the overall picture and not on an individual case by case basis,” Ms. Vollaro said. “Because we have so much public art in the city of Claremont and a desire for more, a master plan is needed to give us a clear direction of what the process is and who administers and who oversees it.”

The consultant interviewed an estimated 100 people in the community over the past year in an effort to create recommendations for an overall public art master plan. The recommendations, which still need to be formed into a master plan for approval from both the commissions and city council, suggests the city reinstate the part-time volunteer art coordinator position as a paid post at 20 hours a week. While a rate has not been identified, the consultant recommends funding for the coordinator be taken from the $800 art development fee associated with each public art project. Included in the fee would be “the actual time that the Public Art Coordinator spends advising the developer on public art projects, meeting with city staff, preparing reports and making presentations to the Public Art Committee among other related tasks.” Up to 25 percent of the art development fee would be given to Public Art Program administration.

The consultant has also suggested the city not solely rely on its art coordinator for selection of public art. Instead, a seven-member art committee would be formed to oversee any of the city’s artistic decisions including public art policies, guidelines, artists and artwork. In addition, the architectural commission, previously tasked with reviewing and approving public art, would no longer be in charge of giving approval.

“Public art is not identified in the Architectural Review Ordinance…that describes the role, responsibilities and review criteria for the design of new construction projects,” the plan states.

“With the establishment of a Public Art Committee comprised of knowledgeable visual arts professionals, the role the Architectural Commission has assumed in providing approvals for public art projects is no longer needed,” it continues.

The elimination of the commission’s review has not sat well with Claremont architectural commissioners and local architects. In a letter to the city, commissioner Maureen Wheeler, also a local artist, calls the dismissal of the architectural commission’s public art review “an insult.”

“Who better than the architectural commission to judge whether the public art is in harmony with the entire project from site plan to signage?” Ms. Wheeler posed. “Regarding art in architecture, architectural commissioners are capable of following guidelines prepared for them and most do have training in the visual arts. The experience of the AC in interpreting 3D visual projects equals over a hundred years!”

After hearing feedback, Ms. Vollaro stressed the recommendations are still being considered and that city staff is taking a closer look at the section of the master plan dealing with the architectural commission.

“There is at least one artist on the architectural commission right now, but that might not always be the case,” she said. “The goal is to make sure that there is the right expertise and the right group of people reviewing public art. That is still being teased out.”

After initial concerns, local architect Paul Wheeler, Ms. Wheeler’s husband, says he is pleased with the city’s preliminary revisions, which eliminates the architectural commission’s lack of public art experience among other changes. He looks forward to seeing the completed master plan.

“It seems to be working itself through the ubiquitous bureaucracy,” he said.

Staff is also conducting further work on creating a map tracking the city’s existing public art pieces and identifying areas for future works of art, which could include anything from city hall’s rotating art to the side of a building. Some identified spaces include entrances or “gateways” to the city and centralized areas near the Village for potential walking art tours. Mayor Opanyi Nasiali, who has advocated for the creation of a public art master plan, looks forward to putting Claremont on the map not only for its beauty and business, but for its artistic inclinations as well.

“I want us to be a destination city for public art,” he said. “When people come to the Village to eat and shop and other things, I want them to be able to enjoy pieces of art all over the city. It adds to the ambiance of our city, brings a benefit to our businesses and gives our community something to be proud of.”

—Beth Hartnett


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