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Finding funds for public art

Council to consider less formal - and less expensive - process for acquiring art
by: VERN UYETAKE Ken Worcester, director of parks and recreation for West Linn, shows a small mockup of a larger planned sculpture the city agreed to commission in 2008. Three years later, the mockup remains at city hall, but the “Historic Grindstones” were never built.

Three years ago, the city of West Linn celebrated its selection of a future public art installation.

Called the 'Historic Grindstones' project, the artwork was to be paid for with public funds specifically set aside from a planned trail development. New at the time, the Percent for Art program aimed to bank 1.5 percent of the direct costs of any major construction or remodeling of public facilities in a trust fund for art.

But the grindstones sculpture, symbolizing West Linn's roots in the mill industry and civic pride, was never built.

The project has been tied up because of obstacles to building the trail. And no other public art projects have been completed since the Percent for Art program was created, either.

Today, the only real public art installation is at the library, where several sculptures were purchased almost a decade ago, before the Percent for Art program existed.

The reason is twofold, said Ken Worcester, parks director: Few city construction endeavors qualify to contribute art funds, and at the same time, the few projects that would be required to contribute are too small to cover the art-selection process' costs.

In other words, following the city's Percent for Art guidelines costs more than actually procuring works of art.

As a result, the city council is considering changing the program's policies. A discussion of Percent for Art is tentatively set for a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at city hall, 22500 Salamo Road.

'My whole goal would be to have art instead of a process if we could,' said Worcester, who has recommended a less formal ar selection process in the case of smaller public projects. 'We're trying to be efficient with our time and the money available.'

Today, the program guidelines require appointing a committee, which typically would need to meet several times to choose an overall concept and then send out a call to artists, Worcester said. Then, he said, 'you might take four or five artists you're really interested in' to put together formal proposals.

With the grindstones project, the city sought artists to design a large-scale sculpture incorporating grindstones used in the papermaking process. It was planned for Willamette Park, near a future Willamette River trail.

West Linn paid at least three finalists $750 each to present their ideas to the selection committee, according to public records.

They had to include models or drawings of their design concepts, descriptions of materials and installation methods and the methodology they used to research relevant historical, geological and cultural information.

In the end, the committee had acquired a mockup by John Davis of Tucson, Ariz., but the overall process cost more than $2,500.

In comparison, the project's estimated cost, at completion, was $40,000, with the city paying $3,000, private fundraising covering the rest and a county grant helping cover the selection process, according to past news stories in the Tidings.

'If we're going to spend $2,500 on a process every time, we're never going to have enough for art,' Worcester said.

Instead, he hopes to simplify the program's guidelines, allowing the city to actually use funds set aside from smaller construction projects - new park restrooms, for example - to acquire public art.

'For smaller projects we could have a less formal process, maybe an art contest or a competition at a school,' Worcester said. 'Then, when it's a bigger project, when you would have more money that could go toward art, we could have a more formal process.'

West Linn could also partner with another entity, such as a Clackamas County arts group, to oversee the process, he said.

As for the Historic Grindstones effort, the trail project linked to it is still on hold because of property ownership and easement issues, and so the city's $3,000 planned for public art also remains in limbo.

'We'll move forward with it as soon as we can secure those easements and go through the land-use process,' Worcester said.