Asheville City Council

“It looks great to me,” said Vice Mayor Ed Hay during City Council’s Sept. 7 work session. But Hay wasn’t critiquing a specific sculpture — he was speaking about a proposed public-art policy for Asheville.

City staffer Hojun Welker, a member of the city’s Public Art Working Group, outlined the terms of the proposal, explaining that Council members wouldn’t get to decide which artworks would adorn the city’s public spaces. Instead, aesthetic judgments would be the domain of a public-art board appointed by City Council. The working group, chaired by Field, has met monthly since last November to draft the policy.

Among other things, the proposed public-art board would be charged with: creating a process for acquiring public artworks; enhancing Asheville’s reputation as an arts destination; using public art as an economic-development tool; encouraging the use of volunteers to help carry out its mandate; and educating the public about the importance of art in the city’s cultural landscape.

City Council would receive regular updates from the board on its acquisitions and on related issues.

Choosing which fruits of local artists’ labors will grace city streets might seem like pure fun, but the city’s latest arts-related headache — a dispute over where to put the sculpture Shopping Daze, the newest addition to the Urban Trail — highlights the need for a carefully delineated public-art policy. Even though Asheville has recently ranked seventh and 13th in two national surveys concerning “art destination” cities, and ninth in a survey of outstanding small-town cultural centers, the city has no policy addressing such cultural concerns, Welker explained. Accordingly, she began her speech with a careful definition of public art: “any permanent work of art or design element created by artists or craftspeople and sited in a public space for the public to experience.”

The working group proposes funding the public-art program through an annual 1 percent appropriation from the city’s capital-improvements budget (which would bring in between $45,000 and $50,000); the board would also seek funds from matching grants and donations.

“[Then] it’s not limited [to the 1 percent appropriation],” noted Hay, adding, “We could have the Eiffel Tower, or the Leaning Tower of Pisa, if you could get it.” And Field pointed out that the art board’s responsibilities wouldn’t end once new artworks were installed, saying, “We need to be able to maintain what [art] we already have.”

Mayor Leni Sitnick also spoke to practical matters: “It’s important to recognize that this is not just about art for art’s sake, but about tourism, the economy and education. I’d like to work with the local schools, set up a program by which graduating art students can create [public] projects.”

Welker reminded her that this is already being done: Several Urban Trail pieces, in fact, were created by college students. Sitnick also waxed enthusiastic about the city’s exploding arts scene, reporting excitedly about an artists’ colony being developed in West Asheville.

“The potential [for the city to become a top arts destination] is boundless,” she continued, adding, “I look forward to the community embracing this issue.”

Immediately thereafter, Council added the arts proposal to the consent agenda for the Sept. 14 formal session.

Wheels of fortune

Luckily for local skateboarders, Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick is an avid spectator of the sport. Revealing that she had recently watched a televised national championship in San Diego (attended by 20,000 people), the mayor pronounced, “It obviously has great appeal.” Creating a similar competitive forum in Asheville (and reaping the accompanying economic benefits) is a distinct future possibility, she noted.

But first, skateboarders need a park they can call their own. The popularity of a temporary facility atop the Civic Center parking deck (the lofty ramps typically draw 50-60 skateboarders a day) has prompted the city to move ahead with plans for a permanent skateboarding park.

Asheville’s Skateboard Task Force includes city staff, skateboarders, Asheville Police Department officers, parents and community leaders; together, this disparate crew has secured a design team — headed by John Fisher Architects — and identified a potential site (the junction of Flint and Cherry streets). Council Member Earl Cobb voiced concern about potentially disruptive noise from such a park; but the site’s proximity to I-240 ensures that traffic noise would drown out any skateboard sounds.

Funding for the park — which is projected to cost $568, 275 — will be solicited by the Task Force from outside sources. In the meantime, however, a budget amendment in that amount will create a place to put the money.

Before moving the item to the consent agenda, Sitnick stressed that the respect skateboarders have shown for their temporary park should figure strongly in Council’s decision to approve the budget amendment. Despite some people’s doubts about the feasibility of such a facility, “the kids have never abused the park,” she declared.

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