Just as art is in the eye of the beholder, so is a city of Lakeland proposal to appoint a panel that would consider applications to install murals and other public art.
Supporters see the proposal as a way to encourage more murals on Lakeland buildings and ensure they won’t fade or chip away. But detractors see regulations as a possible intrusion on artists’ freedom of expression.
With murals becoming more common — particularly downtown and in Dixieland — city administrators are seeking to add murals to a public arts ordinance passed by the City Commission in 2006.
“We don’t want to prohibit them, but to direct them,” City Manager Tony Delgado said.
Far from curtailing murals, the ordinance is intended to let artists know they city is encouraging them as a way to make Lakeland more desirable, said Nicole Travis, Community Redevelopment Agency manager.
10 weeks ago: A mural had just been completed at KRaP Art, 938 E. Main St.
The committee that will review proposals will deal with issues such as whether the materials are durable and that the mural is not commercial in nature. “We want to make sure it’s not signage and make sure it’s not obscene,” Travis said. “The committee will allow for better, more thought-out murals in strategic locations.”
The measure that was called “the mural ordinance” at a recent city meeting is actually an update of a law that was passed 10 years ago but never implemented.
The ordinance approved in August 2006 calls for 1 percent of the construction budget for new municipal buildings to go into a fund to buy and maintain public art. The fund was capped at $100,000 per project. Private developers are encouraged but not required to contribute to the public art fund.
“It was never administered because of the downturn in the economy,” Delgado said. With spending tight, there was little appetite to divert construction funds to an arts project.
Now that there is “more discussion of public art,” Delgado said, “we want to see if there are opportunities to enhance public art.”
But not at the level envisioned in the 2006 ordinance. The proposed revision reduces the cap for public arts funds set aside from municipal building projects at $25,000.
“We still want to promote the arts, but it allows us to do something more financially feasible,” Travis said. “The whole staff felt that it was too much of a project’s budget. The $25,000 would buy two sculptures like the ones on Lemon Street, so it could still make an impact on the arts.”
Assistant Parks Director Pam Page, another proponent of the public arts ordinance, points out that even the $100,000 cap enacted in 2006 was more conservative than those in some other cities. Seattle’s public arts ordinance had no cap and applied to both public and private projects, she said.
The original ordinance called for a five-person “art in public places advisory committee” and it was aimed mostly at overseeing purchases and maintenance of public art. The committee was never appointed. The new proposal calls for seven members:
- A city commissioner or designee
- The director of parks and recreation or designee
- A landscape architect, architect, urban planner or related design professional
- An active professional artist
- A private citizen knowledgeable in the field of public art, education or community affairs
- The Community Development director or designee
- A citizen-at-large.
The last two are the new positions.
Members are to be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Commission.
The new proposal adds one duty not included originally: “The committee shall establish guidelines and application procedures for the installation of murals and shall be responsible for the review of such applications with regard to readability and appropriateness of scale and materials.”
The ordinance has two other new proposals regarding murals:
- Murals not approved by the committee “will be considered graffiti and enforced accordingly.”
- The property owner is responsible for maintenance, including dealing with peeling paint and removing vandalism.
Polk Museum of Art Executive Director Claire Orologas calls the plan “a great step.”
“This is a similar framework and procedure used by other cities in their Art in Public Places initiatives,” she said, adding the only recommendation she has involves the committee: Include a visual arts professional in addition to the professional artist already planned.
City Commissioner Jim Malless, who has been involved with arts organizations, says he fears artists will view a city review committee as a barrier. “If we’re going to do murals to make Lakeland more cool, we should do it more naturally.”
Malless makes it clear he supports murals. A concentration of murals has enhanced his hometown of Indianapolis and provided a visual connection in his wife’s hometown of Pontiac, Ill., with historic Route 66, he said.
Karen Seggerman, Malless’ wife, is board president of Arts on the Parks, which is planning to use funds remaining from the sale of its building at 115 N. Kentucky Ave. to sponsor murals in downtown alleys and elsewhere in Lakeland.
The organization’s board voted in November to donate $30,000 to the Polk Museum of Art and set aside the remaining $60,000 for mural artists, The Ledger reported.
Plans, still in the conceptual stage, include a call for artists to submit mockups that would be reviewed by a jury that would select finalists.
The Arts on the Park building sold in August 2013 for $220,000, with Malless, a Realtor and board member, handling the sale. Much of the proceeds went toward mortgage debt and bills.
Another skeptic of the mural plan is David Collins, who once owned Paint Along Studios downtown and more recently has been known for painting murals on buildings and trees around Munn Park.
“It’s between the building owner and the artist and it’s not something we should have a lot of rules on,” he said. “We already have a signage ordinance … They can have a simple statement that no mural may have pornographic content. Beyond that, what does the city have to say about what goes on the walls?”
While city officials say they plan to grandfather in existing murals, some of Collins’ most recent work falls outside the proposed rules. He concedes he didn’t seek permission from property owner Jeff Holden before painting on the glass at a building at 209 E. Main St. But he points out that Holden hasn’t objected to his work on that building or another Holden building on Kentucky Avenue.
The city will ask that the property owner apply for mural review, Travis said, so murals painted without the property owner’s knowledge won’t be sanctioned.
Applicants will be asked to submit a rendering of the mural, the dimensions and information about any architectural features that might be covered up, she said.
Any changes to the public arts ordinance will come before the City Commission twice: a first reading that sets the stage and a second reading where public comment will be solicited before commissioners vote.
Delgado said first reading will be at one of the commission’s July meetings, but he wasn’t sure which one, and second reading would be at the following meeting.