A Robust Discussion About Golden’s Art Program

Heard those rumors that Golden’s public art program is under attack?

Not true.

I strongly support our public art program as well as the rest of our arts and cultural organizations and opportunities, but it seems I’ve caused a bit of a fuss by suggesting that maybe the community should have more of a voice in its own public art.

Rather than engage in a thoughtful dialogue about the questions and issued I raised, some inflammatory emails are circulating that mischaracterize my suggestion.  Those kinds of email are an effective way to get people fired up – if I weren’t on Council and read those emails I’d be upset as well – but it makes it difficult to have an honest community conversation.

For a long time, decisions about what art the city spends public money on and where this art is installed have been made by a group of folks known as the Public Art Committee. This committee formed about fifteen years ago, and with the blessing of the then-City Council proceeded to create a public art program in Golden where one didn’t really exist. Basically, the committee raised money to purchase art (or managed to acquire donated pieces), tapped into a small city fund to supplement its own fundraising, and decided where the art would be installed. As best as I can tell, City Council ok’d pretty much everything that came its way.

I am deeply grateful for the committee’s hard work over the years, the result of which is a robust collection of art throughout the community, but just because it’s the way we’ve always done it doesn’t mean it’s the best way to move forward.  I asked this question because under the current process City Council is basically asked to rubber stamp decisions that involve spending public money and using public land without any public participation. The current process isn’t transparent to the community, the community has no meaningful opportunity to participate in the process, and the process has essentially no accountability to the community.  I’m not criticizing the existing process but I am asking if it’s the way we’d like to proceed from here.

My suggestion:  that we create a community advisory board to make decisions about public art in Golden, and do so in the open, in a way that allows for meaningful public participation, and in a way that’s accountable to the community.  I suggested that City Council appoint the committee for the simple reason that it’s the only entity that is directly responsible to the community.  Interestingly, it turns out that tons of our neighbors do exactly what I’m proposing. Lafayette, Aurora, Littleton, Arvada, Broomfield, and Greeley, and western Colorado towns like Delta, Breckenridge, and others all have City Council-appointed committees that are appointed openly, work in the open, invite public comment and participation, and have primary responsibility for making these kinds of decisions.

Every one of the folks who serve on City Council are going to have ideas about good ways to make decisions and make good things happen in Golden.  Some of them will be good ideas and some will be bad, and it seems to me that the best way to sort it out is to have thoughtful, respectful community conversations.  I don’t mind at all if folks disagree with this proposal, but at least now you’ll have the benefit of knowing what exactly I proposed and why.

In that spirit, I invite everyone who has some thoughts on this question to either write a reply to this blog post (which you can do below) or send an email to the City Council list (citycouncil@ci.golden.co.us).

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9 Responses to “A Robust Discussion About Golden’s Art Program”

  1. Casey Brown Says:

    I’m a little unclear on the current process. Does city council currently approve each piece of art and where it is placed? If not, then I can certainly agree with you that more input into the process is warranted. Has council considered, instead of adding a new board, bulking up the membership of the existing art committee with some additional members? Maybe a representative from city council, an existing board member, or just a couple of new folks picked from the community like with the other boards/commissions?

  2. Jacob Smith Says:

    In the current process, City Council basically rubber stamps the decisions of the Public Art Committee. I don’t think that’s bad, necessarily, but it does mean that the community has basically no meaningful opportunity to influence the decisions about our public art program. I think it would be great to have a thoughtful discussion about the best way for our community to make decisions about public art, and in that discussion your suggestion would be a good one.

  3. Ton Kiphardt Says:

    Don’t mess with success. What ain’t broke does NOT to be fixed. They are doing a fine job. We really don’t need anymore government involvement and create more hoops to jump through.

    Checkmate, has been in the City yard for two plus years now. It is a disgrace, put it up somewhere. If we get committees involved it is going to take another 10 years before they come up with a unanimous decision to put it somewhere.

    And getting citizens involved, good luck, you never are going to get a consensus. And we still end up with a stalemate.

    So put the issue to rest and give CHECKMATE a pedistal to rest on as originally planned. It is a nice piece and needs to be displayed soon, NOT IN A CITY YARD for so many years.

    And for Council, you have more important issues to deal with, I would think.

  4. beverly Freese Says:

    “Too many cooks spoil the broth”, to summarize T. Kiphardts note. Another committee? Should not be needed, but maybe a couple more people or fresh face every couple of years might be needed. I personally believe if we’re not careful, we are going to start looking like a “trailer park”, if we aren’t very particular where we put additional art work. (The yellow bicycles are never used for bicycle stands – I tried to use it, and had trouble- and they just look out of place, we are not a modernistic community.) Just because we find something that we think is “cool” doesn’t mean it fits in the city “personna”. We should not acquire something unless it has the “perfect spot” to go. I was just in Kansas City at the “PLAZA”, where art and fountains abound. Very tastfully done! Hope we can have the same good taste.

  5. Diane Pasquarelli Says:

    In my opinion you will NEVER get everyone to agree about Art. The current Art Committee has done a wonderful job of finding a wide variety of Art. They are citizens of Golden. Just because City Council didn’t appoint them doesn’t mean that they aren’t qualified to make decisions. Jacob, you make it sound like the City Council and City Staff don’t have any input. NOT True !! I’m sure that if you asked about current pieces being considered that the Art Committee would certainly show you. The piece “Checkmate” has been around for TWO YEARS. It’s a beautiful piece and should be displayed.

  6. Ray Goodhart Says:

    It’s ART!! Decisions on subjective issues will rarely receive 100% agreement. The process would be tedious and endless if every piece were open to ongoing debate and then required community agreement. The PUBLIC Art Committee is already a group of CITIZENS who hear the comments made by the community. Let’s not turn this into one more political and divisive community issue. The Art Committee should not be regulated or controlled by Council or another “Advisory Committee”. Otherwise, after every election we will need to change the artwork in town–if we were ever able to agree on anything in the first place! “Good” or “Bad” art should not be “decided” based on who happens to be in the majority on Council. Unless it is grossly offensive to a group or culture, the current artwork is doing its job–and is SUPPOSED to inspire comment! Let the Public Art Committee do its job! Don’t turn this into another bureaucratic nightmare.
    Ray Goodhart

  7. Tim Pasquarelli Says:

    Jacob, and other Councilors,
    The Civic Foundation has been around a long time doing quite well at helping fund not just art work, but also museums, businesses, the town theater and a host of other activities. How can it be said as above, “without any public participation?” The Public Art Committee IS comprised of citizens. They do coordinate with and talk to the city about the art. The discussions during Council meetings makes it sound as if they sneak into the city in the middle of the night and plop the art down on the street.

    There are so many volunteer groups working behind the scenes that it difficult to keep track of them. Several new Councilors (elected in the last two to three years) seem to have a penchant for wanting to take control of these groups. THAT’S EASY TO DO. Just join up, roll up your sleeves and go to work. Go out and sell tickets to raise money for city enhancements. Staff the booths to raise money for good causes. Come down and join the group of five or six citizens who every Saturday at 5:30 a.m. from June until October set up the Farmers’ Market. Come a few hours before the events and help volunteer to set up tables, chairs, soft drinks, hot beverages, etc, etc, for the Christmas parades, candle light walk, Buffalo Bill Days, 4th of July, antique car shows, etc, etc, that are mostly run by volunteers. Please do TAKE CONTROL of those activities, by joining and spending hours year-round to keep these things viable.

    But, if you take control officially, as the City Council, ask the city financial manager the full cost that the city might bear. We’ll be happy to turn over ticket sales to someone else. In the discussion above there is mention of city money and volunteer money — check with staff to get a comparison of the ratio. Also, try to factor in the cost of staff if volunteers do not carry some of the burden. And, will there be a need to add staff to monitor the Council involvement.

    And now a little about transparency…. I keep hearing that the city staff and government isn’t transparent. It is said above, in the blog. I personally believe that a good deal of that thought process is misguided and may just stem from ignorance or laziness. Let’s list a few: The “Informer”, the city web site, City Councilors’ email addresses, open City Council meetings, open Council study sessions, open CBAC meetings, open GURA meetings, open EdCom meetings, open Parks and Rec meetings, and open doors. These are not all and then there is the the new telecasts. But, most of the others have been around for at least several years and the Council meetings have always been open. I have gone in to city offices many times with questions and have NEVER been turned away. Appropriate City records have never been withheld from me. The only way to be more transparent is to herd the entire city population down to Lions Park and hold all city business there on a podium.

    Thanks for your time and consideration. Please, let the Civic Foundation stay the course. I am not a member but do strongly support them.

    Tim Pasquarelli
    Ward 3 Citizen

  8. Jarett Zuboy Says:

    I support Councilor Smith in his call for increased public input to the selection of art in public places. Several in this blog have argued that this would delay the process of having art installed. That would be a good thing.

    Bronze statues have proliferated too rapidly, e.g., along the bike path and Washington St. sidewalks. Particularly along the bike path, Golden’s natural beauty, not man-made objects, should be allowed to take center stage. Once things like statues are installed they are very difficult to remove, staying for decades because of inertia if nothing else. Slowing down the process would allow a more sustainable approach to our public places, preventing “overcrowding” and a cliched small-town look.

    True, art is subjective. In fact, in my subjective opinion, many of the bronze statues do not classify as art, rather as “kitsch,” and they are certainly not unique – I saw an exact copy of the girl-on-a-bench statue (on the bike path across from the library) in Boulder. I’m not sure they’re considered art, but the colored bike racks are a bit of an eyesore and, from my observation, unused.

    Because of the effect of public art, statues, etc. on the appearance of the community and their inherent longevity, I support a slower, more deliberate process for installing such objects.

  9. Julie Sexton Says:

    I support Jacob Smith’s proposal to have a community advisory board to make decisions about public art. Such a board will allow for a stronger community voice in the decisions about public art in Golden. I support public processes that are open, transparent and that invite the public to participate.

    Thank you Jacob for addressing this issue. I have been concerned about the process for selecting and approving public art for Golden and I think your proposal offers an important step for making Golden a community that honors the voice of the people.

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