Public art program takes more direct tack

DOWNEY - The creation in 2005 of an Art in Public Places program, aimed at providing a "wide range of artwork styles, themes and media-all of the highest quality," and a 5-member advisory committee to recommend to the city council the artworks that might give enjoyment to visual arts-starved Downey residents, seemed to hold much promise.To art and culture connoisseurs, it certainly looked like a step in the right direction. Upon recent review, however, although the city council did not find fault with the program per se, it found at least the advisory committee wanting. Tuesday night, the council pulled the plug on it. It acted on the recommendation of city staff. Community services director Thad Phillips had reasoned, "Because art is subjective, and often based on statements or expressions of personal opinion or feeling, a public art project might benefit from a review and approval from the city council directly. This will enable staff to hear directly from the city council members and receive direction to develop a collection of public artworks throughout the city to be enjoyed by all." Noting that the committee had a hand only in at best three sculpture installations in six years, councilman Mario Guerra, chief proponent of the program, repeated what he said earlier: "I want to see more art, not less. But the advisory committee [underperformed]. For instance, it hadn't met in 1 1/2 years." "We in the council are all in support of the arts," chimed in councilman Fernando Vasquez. Henceforth, Guerra (with the concurrence of the other council members) said, all public art proposals will be submitted directly to the city council, thus "eliminating the red tape" for future projects. Beyond the deletion, however, of Section 8970 of Chapter 10 of Article VIII of the Downey Municipal Code (which provided for the formation of the advisor committee, composed of appointees representing the five districts), it's becoming clear that the ordinance behind the program fails to fully address the truly relevant artistic and cultural themes the city and the times demand. Good ideas for the advancement of art and culture in Downey may come from totally unexpected sources; the city council and staff would do well to flag them. Some of the proposals made by such an ardent advocacy group as the Downey Arts Coalition or by well-meaning and astute individuals like Harold Tseklenis and Lawrence Christon should at least rate a serious hearing or study. To achieve really compelling results benefiting the greatest number of people, city council memers and city staff should not summarily dismiss them nor decry time spent in dispassionate, clear-headed debate about such stuff which bears long-term implications. To Guerra's credit, he enjoined Andrew Wahlquist, founder of the Downey Arts Coalition, to put together its program outlining its goals and vision and make a proposal. With departmental budget and policy reviews about to get underway in earnest, further fine-tuning of ordinances such as this one may yield future golden returns.

********** Published: May 26, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 6