Arts and Humanities Local News

Mayor to Sign Ordinance for Public Art Plan

This week Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson is expected to sign an ordinance (pdf) into law to set up the city’s public art plan (pdf). WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

The council unanimously passed the ordinance last week that creates a nine-member commission on public art, which will include business, civic and government leaders to oversee the plan, and sets up a fund that can accept donations, grants and city funds.

Mary Lou Northern is a senior advisor to Mayor Abramson. She says now work begins on getting the commission together.

“We have asked people to submit names with background and contact information,” she says. “We will cull through that list and make recommendations to the mayor, which he will recommend to the council.”

She says the commission could be up and running by September.

Northern spent nearly two years working on this plan. She says it’s difficult to know when the first grants for public art projects will be given.

“We still are in a tough economic time,” she says, “so we don’t know at what point we’ll have enough money to give grants. But our hope is that within two years, we should be able to at least give out some smaller grants.”

She says the plan requires other changes in local laws, including adjusting the development code.

Metro Council President Tom Owen
says the project will benefit the city.

“The notion of needing to inventory and evaluate existing pieces of art is absolutely critical,” he says. “And local folks and visitors are enriched and informed by public art. All of this is in the right direction.”

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Looking at Possibilities for a Louisville Public Art Plan

This is a story from WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer.

Last month, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson released a plan for public art [pdf] in the city. It came after nearly 17 months of preparation and $50,000 spent for a consultant who worked with the community to develop it. The plan now goes before the Metro Council for approval, so the community is now looking at how it will work and its prospects.

Here, on Bashford Manor Lane in front of sprawling Wal-Mart parking lot, is some existing public art. Among four benches is a relief sculpture by artist Bob Lockhart. It shows three Kentucky Derby winners from the Bashford Manor Farms, which were torn down in the early 1970s. Some people living nearby say they’ve never seen anyone sit there. One is Anthony Johnson.

“I don’t know why these are out here,” Johnson tells me. “I guess if somebody’s walking or whatever they need to stop or something.”

Under the city’s land code, commercial developers with a project exceeding 100,000 square feet must set aside a percentage of their construction budget for public amenities — like benches and sculptures or even fountains and more. This spot is a result of that requirement.

But a new idea concerning that code came up during meetings between city officials, a public art consultant and developers. And the developers are happy with this idea: to have the option to use the money they are required to spend for such amenities and, instead, contribute it to a public art fund.

That agreement signified a potential benefit for developers and became a linchpin in Louisville’s efforts to formulate a public art plan with funding to preserve the city’s existing public art and help create and care for new art.

But the mayor’s office didn’t want to just satisfy developers. Officials also consulted with many other groups. Mary Lou Northern, the mayor’s senior advisor for cultural affairs, oversaw that process.

“There was an educators group. There was a group of historians. There was a group of artists,” she says.

So far, the result is a 70-page plan [pdf], with three pages dedicated to funding. The rest proposes the public and non-profit bodies that would underpin new public art. Metro Government would hire a public art administrator to work with a new commission. And that group would set up an independent non-profit organization to raise funds, commission art, and consider proposals from other -profits, like arts and neighborhood groups.

The proposed policies have elated local artists including Chris Radtke, who is co-chair of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Public Art and worked on the plan. She says it would give artists a new avenue for their creative ideas — and pay them.

“The artists will come up with things you haven’t even thought of in terms of sites,” Radtke says. “And they’ll come up with projects not even on your radar. And so this allows that to happen. Artists from anywhere can look at Louisville, see a site and think of a project that is really out of their own mind, out of their own creative mind.”

And what would be the use of this public art? Reasons include civic pride, tourism and more. Joyce Ogden is an art professor at Spalding University. She’s worked on public art projects at city parks and the county jail.

“I think it helps us look at our history specifically in Louisville and the various communities and neighborhoods that we have here,” Ogden says.

But what about controversy, which sometimes accompanies public art? Barbara Goldstein has worked as the public art director in Seattle and San José and edited Public Art by the Book.

“If the plan reflects Louisville and it’s something that is reflective of the city’s goals, how the city sees itself and how the community sees itself, and if it’s administered by a group of people responsive to what they plan articulates, then there shouldn’t be a whole heck of a lot of controversy,” Goldstein says.

Still, disagreements about public art are inevitable. Even the histories of the Washington Monument and the Vietnam Memorial include controversy. But Ogden sees that as an advantage.

“It really gives us an opportunity to use art to create dialogue and conversation and address issues,” she says.

And by next year, the city’s plans to start conversations on public art with a series of events where artists present their ideas about public art on the Louisville landscape.

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An Inventory of Louisville's Art and the Care It Needs

Serious art collectors keep careful lists of their treasures and tend to them using meticulous instructions. In recent decades, cities are starting to do the same through public art plans. Now, Louisville is cataloguing its public art and trying to figure out how to maintain its collection. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

On a triangle of land, where Third Street becomes Southern Parkway, sits a curved limestone bench with a curious history — as Karen Porter discovered earlier this year.

“I did a little research, and this bench is donated to A.D. Ruff — they called him ‘Pap,” says Porter. “And he was a great cycle enthusiast. And when he passed away, he bequeathed some money.”ruff-memorial-fountain-wheelmans-bench3

“They” were the Kentucky Wheelman’s club, and in 1896 they used that money to commission artist Enid Yandell to build a bench and fountain to memorialize “Pap.” Both went up the next year. But over decades, the pieces were neglected and the fountain removed.

Porter says the loss was significant because Yandell was a prominent artist. She studied with Auguste Rodin and created the towering sculpture of Daniel Boone at Cherokee Park.

public-art-inventory-010This story is a lesson in what can happen without a plan for maintaining public art, says Mary Lou Northern, Mayor Jerry Abramson’s special assistant for cultural assets.

Northern is overseeing Metro Government’s efforts to create a public art plan. It will include an inventory of Louisville’s art. So far, Porter has put together a list of about 150 pieces. The city recognized the need for a plan after some art went missing in recent years. Northern says the city found it lacked some basic information about the city’s art.

“We didn’t have the history. We didn’t always know if a piece was on loan. There was no central depository for records,” Northern says. “We didn’t really have any instructions on how to care for pieces, so some pieces just weren’t cared for; some the wrong materials were used to clean them.”

Now, the city is spending $50,000 to create the public art plan it will release this fall. Northern says it will detail the care of the city’s pieces, identify funding prospects for existing and future public art and eventually display the pieces on a Web site.

Glen Wharton is a conservator at the Museum of Modern Art and a researcher at New York University. He says Louisville’s experience sounds familiar.

“Surprisingly,” Wharton says, “a lot of cities and municipalities, even state governments don’t know what they have.”

Wharton’s worked with city and state governments on public art projects, which are often seen as channels for tourism dollars. He says getting funding for art conservation is often more difficult than getting money to pay for new art, which has more appeal to donors who want recognition.

Because of this, he says cities need to make some special efforts.

“I really believe in engaging the public,” he says, “because if you don’t have public support, it’s not going to happen.

That advice resonates with Adam Burckle. He owns the Adams Matthews Cheesecake Company and the Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen stores.

louisville-clock1Since 2004, he and other volunteers have worked on one of the city’s art pieces — the Louisville Clock.

It was made by artist Barney Bright and set up downtown in 1976. Then sculpted characters raced around a track at noon everyday. But it was plagued by mechanical problems, leading the city to dismantle it in the 1980s.

Given how the city handled the clock, Burckle’s not convinced it knows how to care for art.

“When they owned it they treated it like a piece of trash,” Burckle says. “Now that I’ve got it and it’s under my control, I’ve treated it with the respect that it so deserves.”

The work, which is almost complete, has cost more than $200,000 raised through donations. Now, Burckle is working with city to decide where the clock’s downtown home will be this fall. As for the public art plan, he has his own reservations.

“I hope that people get involved more than the government does,” he says, “because if the people get involved I know it’s going to stick and take hold because they’ll have ownership in it. If it’s just another government thing, people are going to sit back and say, ‘Oh, that’s the government’s job. Let them do that.”

The city’s Mary Lou Northern says she and a consultant are working with some people in the community to create a plan that will be able to incorporate public involvement.