Story last updated at 11:13 a.m. Thursday, July 11, 2002

Art plan draws debate
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: news
  Photo provided by Paul Dungan
Ceramic artist Paul Dungan works on a sculpture commissioned by the municipality of Anchorage. If a public art ordinance being considered by the Homer City Council passes, Homer may soon be commissioning works like Dunganpis for upcoming buildings like the proposed animal shelter and library, as well as for any planned building renovations.  
Homer potter Paul Dungan has spent the past eight months creating six human-size ceramic sculptures symbolizing the many emotions of the grieving process and our connections to those who have passed.

Soon, those sculptures, like many other public artworks made by Homer artists, will be on display for everyone, but not in Homer.

The colorful and thought-provoking sculptures were commissioned by Anchorage for a repository wall at one of the city's cemeteries and will be placed strategically in this place of reflection and contemplation.

If a public art ordinance introduced by Homer City Councilman Mike Yourkowski passes, Homer may soon be commissioning works like Dungan's for upcoming buildings like the proposed animal shelter and library, as well as for any planned building renovations.

The proposal before the council would dedicate 1 percent of the cost of future city buildings or renovations to purchasing works of art for the buildings.

A public hearing regarding the ordinance drew considerable comment, all positive, at Tuesday's city council meeting, but several council members remain unconvinced.

Councilman Rick Ladd told the council during the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday that he had "been contacted by 20 people in the last three days saying they don't want (the ordinance)" though he later clarified that the opinions were gleaned from his day-to-day conversations with city residents.

Ladd said while he supports public art and the art community in Homer, he, and others he had talked to, are concerned about some of the language in the ordinance.

One of his main points of contention on the ordinance, which was modeled after a similar policy in Anchorage, was that the works of art would be chosen by a jury of at least three people, "consisting of the architect or project designer, a representative of the user department, a representative of the Public Arts Committee and any other persons as may be designated by regulation."

Missing from that list, said Ladd, is the city council.

"I would like to see the council have some kind of a say," Ladd said. "We are elected to represent the people, and (the public art project designs) should come back to the public. There's no check by the people."

Also a concern is that the proposed ordinance should have a cap, Ladd said.

Another amendment proposed by Ladd is that a portion of the funding for the public art come from community fund-raising or donations of work by artists, not the city.

"We can't always rely on government to take care of us," he said, adding that if some of the funding came from private contributions, people would have more ownership in the art.

Ladd said while some public art in Anchorage adds to the appeal of the city, Homer doesn't have the tax base Anchorage does. Ladd and Councilman Ray Kranich both say their biggest concern is that with all the projects the city is looking at, such as bike paths, a Town Square project, the library and the animal shelter, the city has a finite amount of money to spend.

"We've got to keep some balance in this," he said. "We've got to look at everything in perspective."

But those testifying at Tuesday night's public hearing had a different view on the 1 percent for art ordinance.

Leanne McCartt and others asked the city council to consider the many art communities in the Lower 48 that have built a thriving economy out of the art industry.

McCartt, who volunteers at the Bunnell Street Gallery, said she has heard from hundreds of visitors who cannot believe that "this little town of Homer has so much art in it."

Connie Alderfer, a member of the Homer Council on the Arts board, said while she understands the city council members make their decisions on what makes sense financially for the city, in her opinion, money invested in the arts will come back.

"It's worth supporting because art has a positive impact on the community," she said.

For Gaye Wolfe, a Homer artist, just the fact that the 1 percent for art ordinance has made it to the city council table indicates how far the community has come in support of the arts.

"In just the 10 years (I have been here), I am amazed at the progress that this little town has made," Wolfe said. "We are an arts destination. Fishing is an industry, but the arts is coming up fast."

Others commented that businesses and private landowners in Homer might be more inclined to follow the city's lead and put some effort into making their buildings aesthetically appealing if the city was dedicating funds from each of its projects to the arts.

While the testimony on the arts ordinance was all in favor, the city council appears to be split on the idea. Ordinance sponsor Yourkowski, who was not present for Tuesday's meeting, along with Councilwoman Pat Cue and Councilman Kurt Marquardt have voiced their support, as has Mayor Jack Cushing, while Ladd, Kranich and Councilman John Fenske may be looking for amendments to the current ordinance.

On Tuesday, Fenske tabled the ordinance, an action that requires four members to bring it back, rather than postponing a vote for a second time due to Yourkowski's absence.

Marquardt said Wednesday that Fenske agreed to vote in favor of bringing the ordinance back into consideration when Yourkowski returned.

Marquardt said the ordinance merely supports with funding the idea of Homer as an arts center, an idea everyone from the city to small bed-and-breakfast operations uses in their promotional material.

"It's true that (in building construction) every dollar counts. But on the flip side, when art is included into a building, it enhances the quality and the aesthetic appeal," he said. "The city uses (the idea of Homer as an arts community) in its literature promoting Homer. Well, it's time to put our money where our mouth is."

The 1 percent for art ordinance is likely to resurface toward the end of August, when Yourkowski returns.