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Alameda Public Art Commission Not Off the Table — Yet

by Alameda Sun

The ongoing struggle to preserve the public art commission appears to be making headway.

My sources in the community tipped me off first that the city had hired a consultant to review the public art commission.

Notice I heard this from community members who had been reading the newspaper, not our city officials.

With pitchfork shined up and torches at the ready I went after the city for wasting the Public Art Fund on hiring a consultant to teach them how to spend the Public Art Fund.

Finally, I got some satisfaction. New Deputy City Manager Alex Nguyen called a meeting with me, another applicant to the Public Art Commission and Margaret Kavanaugh, a relatively new city employee put in charge of the public art, well, problem.

Kavanaugh was immediately forthcoming with the work that the consultant had been doing, her background, and the city’s plan to rework the currently unusable Public Art Ordinance.

While I still have not seen this consultant’s finished report, San Diego-based Gail Goldman has some deep experience and credentials (plus a low rate) and has apparently met with more than 20 community stakeholders to discuss changes in the city’s ordinance. The ordinance lacks some key language: the wording needed to actually dispense the fund accumulated through an opt-out fee developers may pay to avoid having to install public art on their site.

This fund, calculated at one or two percent of the total project adds up quickly when we’re talking about redeveloping shopping centers, old ship-building warehouses, or defunct naval air stations.

In other words, this fund may be seeing a major infusion as Alameda’s redevelopment areas move forward, and more than ever the city needs language that allows this money to be spent fairly.

The city wants your input on how this whole this should work.

The city’s inviting not only artists and arts groups, but business people, church leaders, local chefs, architects, literally anyone creative who might have some input on how this money should be spent to improve our community.

A meeting has been proposed for Wednesday Sept. 21 at the Main Library, 1550 Oak St., to discuss public art. If we can have a meaningful discussion and re-establish the Public Art Ordinance as something complete, we can save the Public Art Commission. Currently public art has been put under the purview of the planning department, instead of having its own governing body.

Coming out of the meeting will be a draft revision to the ordinance for approval by council in December when the public will also have a chance to comment on it.

In a city that boasts no fewer than five fully established organizations focused on visual art, local chefs of renown, Northern California’s longest-operating performing arts group, several independent dance groups and some of the Bay Area’s most remarkable architecture, having a public art commission is a great acheivement for our little city.

At a time when the economy might dictate that we cut this frivolity and spend this art money to fix up our sewers, it’s more important than ever to step up and try to preserve this effort to legislate the beautifi cation of the city and sustain the quality of its culture.

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