A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Police and fire issue: What is art?

Written August 27th, 2015 by Hasso Hering
No one's talking of anything like this item in a private sculpture park at First and Lyon.

No one’s talking of anything like this item in a private sculpture park at First and Lyon.

What is art, exactly? It’s an old question, and it’s coming up before the Albany City Council. An Albany ordinance provides that 1 percent of the cost of new city buildings be spent on art. So what about the planned new police department and downtown fire station, which together might cost around $24 million?

The budget for the projects allocates a total of $200,000 for “art” in both, about $127,000 for the police headquarters and the rest for the new Fire Station 11. Some council members think that amount is excessive, considering that the council tried to assure voters before this year’s $18 million bond election that these buildings would have no unnecessary frills.

One question is: 1 percent of what exactly? At Wednesday’s council meeting, Councilors Floyd Collins and Rich Kellum suggested calculating the required 1 percent based on the costs of only those parts of the buildings open to the public. The council seemed to go along with that idea, but it’s not clear what that calculation would yield. There was no vote, and Mayor Sharon Konopa wanted to wait for the Albany Arts Commission to come up with a recommendation on the general question of art for these buildings.

The city engineering staff, meanwhile, has been working on the practical idea that some required features of the buildings and grounds be built so that they can count as art. Storm water facilities, for instance, could be designed so they look like gardens with an art-like flair. Also there was talk that a wall in the police station holding portraits of honored officers could be counted as art. In the fire station, displaying a restored antique fire engine might serve the same purpose. One thing no one is talking about: Statues or sculptures.

The council heard from the arts commission on the merits of public art, and no one disagrees. But whether it’s art of just decoration, the only items along that line are sculptures at the public libraries and a downtown private park, a metal flagoverlooking the City Hall plaza, and some murals on downtown walls. (No one talks about the murals any more, but when they went up they did not win unanimous acclaim.)

The question of police and fire station art will have to be settled by the end of September so that the designs of the buildings can proceed on schedule. (hh)


9 responses to “Police and fire issue: What is art?”

  1. Bill Kapaun says:

    The question they should ask is how they can authorize a bond that’s more than 1/2 million more than the voters authorized.

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Art as a ‘government mandate.’ It makes me cringe.

  3. James Carrick says:

    There are sensible ways to have art in our public buildings without taxpayers footing the bill. These ideas have likely been put forth before and there will no doubt be some push back this time around, but someone will need to remind me what was wrong with these ideas, then and now.

    Each public building would include sufficient dedicated space to display art from local artists from the jurisdiction served by the building. City buildings would give priority to artists within the city, County buildings would display art originating throughout the county, etc.

    Artists, like everyone else, like to be paid for their work. Accordingly, each piece of art would have a price with details on how to purchase the work. As the art sells, other artist’s and their works can be displayed and sold in it’s place which would provide variety in the artworks on display. The result? Ever changing galleries of art from talented local artists and “compliance” withThis is sometimes seen in restaurants. If the art is deemed worthy by the public and priced fairly, it will sell. Surely a system can be worked where there are opportunities for various types of art and to accommodate many artists Some people like paintings, others prefersculptures, etc. If demand for space is high, displays could be limited to an appropriate time frame. If turnover is high or fast, artists can raise their prices accordingly. Laissez’ faire capitalism in the art world.

    There would be no little or no debate on whether a work of art is good or bad OR even if government should be buying art. The artist has an opportunity to sell his work, and best of all….the ridiculous 1% mandate is effectively circumvented and there is artwork in the building to be seen by the public.And the best part…..it won’t cost the taxpayer anything beyond the costs associated with constructing the display space, a one time cost when the building is built. Free market enterprise at it’s best!


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