Public Art in Golden

I mentioned that one of our more colorful conversations at last week’s City Council meeting had to do with public art in Golden. The issue came up because of a proposal to install a new bronze statue at the north end of town adjacent to Highway 93. I asked for an explanation of the process that leads up to a decision to spent public money to install a new piece of art on public land. If I understand it correctly, a common process involves the Public Art Committee (which includes representatives of the Golden Civic Foundation, the Rotary Club, and someone from Foothills Art Center) selecting a piece of art, selecting a location, raising much of the required funding, and then asking the city to throw in whatever additional funds are needed and to give permission to actually install the piece at the desired location.

I want to be clear that I have enormous respect for the Civic Foundation, Rotary Club, and Foothills Art Center, and I deeply appreciate their contributions to Golden’s public art. Nonetheless, because we are talking about spending public money to purchase and install art on public land, I think it’s really important that the process be more transparent and that the public have a more meaningful role in establishing guidelines and making decisions.

I understand Mayor Baroch’s point that the Civic Foundation (and presumably the Rotary Club and Foothills Art Center as well) contributes to these public art purchases and installations because they like those specific pieces of art in those specific locations, and if we have a more public process that reaches different conclusions then those organizations may no longer want to contribute to the program. I think that’s entirely reasonable. All three are private organizations and they have every right, in my view, to make their own decisions about what art to support. But even if it means that we as a city have less funding available to purchase art I still think it’s really important that the process be entirely transparent and that the public gets to play a meaningful role.

The idea I suggested at last week’s Council meeting was the creation of a citizen advisory board on the city’s art program much like we currently have citizen advisory boards on historic preservation, parks and recreation, and the like. City Council could select members of the board in the same way: anyone interested could apply and City Council and the Mayor would select people we think would provide good expertise and good representation. Presumably the board would be charged with recommending to City Council a set of standards for making decisions about purchasing and installing art, and much as we do with other boards we could let the board apply those standards and make recommendations to City Council (as the group most directly accountable to people in the community) for final decision making.

I’m not sure that this is the best way to do it, but it’s one approach and I figured I would suggest it so that at least we might start a conversation and perhaps spark some alternative suggestions as well. By the way, I’m pretty intrigued by Grand Junction’s approach (which Mayor Baroch mentioned) of installing art and then letting the public vote on whether to actually purchase it after it’s been installed for a while. I am curious to learn more about how they do it and how well it works.

The more fundamental issue is that there is clearly a cynicism in our community about how city government makes decisions that affect the community. Although I don’t think decisions about public art are the most important ones we make, I do believe they matter – everyone who lives or visits Golden sees and experiences our art – and the only way to overcome the cynicism is for city government to actually be more transparent and accountable.

I welcome reactions to my tentative proposal and alternative proposals.

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