Historic statues fall for more diverse art

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County > Council rejects using Art in Public Places funds for Historical Sculptures Master Plan.

By Arin McKenna

The Los Alamos County Council work session Tuesday was packed with citizens wanting to weigh in on how Art in Public Places money is used.


The question was whether to delegate more APP money to the Historical Sculptures Master Plan or retain the $800,000 remaining in the fund for diverse art projects throughout the community.

Mark Rayburn, chair of the Art in Public Places Board (APPB) and the Fuller Lodge Historic Districts Advisory Board joint subcommittee for the master plan, presented the case for implementing the plan, which would create 17 additional bronze statues representing five periods of the county’s history.

Rayburn argued that the series of statues would attract visitors to the community, citing a Google search that turned up 40 pages of photos of the Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves statues, the first in the series.
Funding for implementing the plan was envisioned as a combination of public and private money.

When the options for the second set of statues in the series, those of Norris and Lois Bradbury, were placed on the Open Forum website, only about half the respondents voted on their favorite image; the other half questioned investing more APPB money in historic statues, expressing concerns about the lack of diversity, the cost and having so much of the county’s art concentrated in such a small area.

APPB Chair Carolyn Bossert delineated the issues with funding more historic sculptures.

Each of those 17 statues would cost a minimum of $100,000, and the cost is likely to go up over the next 10 years. The 10-year timetable of the plan would also mean completing a statue every eight months. It took several years to commission the Oppenheimer/Groves pair.

Several new public spaces will need artwork in upcoming years, including the golf course clubhouse, the nature center, the White Rock library and community building. An open call for art also brought suggestions for a variety of art the community would like to see, especially interactive art and signature pieces for both White Rock and Los Alamos.

Money also has to be set aside for maintenance and a reserve fund.

“We’re looking at well over $800,000 in the next five years, and we’re not anticipating a lot of additional income,” Bossert said.

“What makes this so hard is that to fully implement the historic sculptures plan, it’s going to need some really tough decisions. To implement the plan as written is going to hurt the diversity of our collection, and it’s going to be historical bronze lifelike sculptures. It’s not going to be in different mediums, different locations. It’s going to cut out a lot of options.”

The majority of the residents who spoke at the meeting lobbied for diversifying the collection. Everyone approved of the Oppenheimer/Groves statues, but felt the rest of the fund could be put to better use.

“About people traveling to see the statues: the only statue I know of that people travel to see is the Statue of Liberty, and it’s not here,” said resident Angela Vest.

“Personally, I want to live in the present, I want to live in the future, and I want to move toward the future. I am very much in favor of beautifying the town, especially interactive art, things that we give our families, things that we give our children, something to play with.”

Vest had four supporters in the room and a list of 30 additional residents supporting her opinion.

“Those pictures on Flickr that people put up, it’s not because they came to see that sculpture but because when they were here they had that interactive experience with that sculpture,” said Heather McClenahan, executive director for the Los Alamos Historical Society, who argued that the sculpture project would enhance visitors’ experience and keep them in town longer.

Ron Wilkins, a member of the Creative District Advisory Committee, offered the committee’s support for the sculptures.

“Daily, visitors are seen getting their pictures taken with the statues, holding hands or interacting with them in other ways … these two statues have clearly been a success, quickly becoming icons for our community,” Wilkins said.

Joanna Gillespie, who chaired APPB when the Oppenheimer/Groves statues were approved, and another APPB member from that period, Paula Barclay, both opposed more funding for historic sculptures.

“We were quite clear in our statements to the historic board that our funding for the future sculptures ended with those two. That was seed money the APPB was providing for this project, and from there we advised them to seek private donations or go other places for that money,” Barclay said. “I’m proud of those sculptures, I think they’re an asset to the community, but I do not think those are things the APPB should continue to fund in any fashion.”

“The two sculptures we have are great. I love that. But 20 sculptures is not going to give you 10 times the effect of two,” resident George Chandler said. Chandler also objected to the historic sculptures subcommittee “hijacking” APPB jurisdiction.

The subcommittee showed an example of one of their ideas for in front of the CB Fox Department Store location — which was a movie theater at one time–a soldier presenting a movie ticket to a WAC.

However, Andy Fox, who owns the store with his father, said, “My dad and I don’t feel that the statues will bring a meaningful benefit other than curiosity to the downtown. We don’t feel like it’s the best use of funds.”

Councilors praised the thoroughness of the master plan, but most advocated for seeking private funding to implement it and for spending APPB money on more diverse art.

“We have public money, it represents all of our citizens, and it is money set aside to reflect the interests and diversity of our citizens,” Councilor Rick Reiss said.

Only Councilor Pete Sheehey argued for funding more sculptures.

“I think it would be appropriate for council to say, we will provide half the funding if we can find someone to match half the cost of any of these sculptures,” Sheehey said. “That might take $200,000 to $250,000. That’s five sculptures that take people through the history of our town.”

APPB council liaison Kristin Henderson argued passionately against that.

“We just spent 13 percent of all that money ($925,000 originally in the fund) on two bronzes and for one purpose, for one type of art,” Henderson said. “So in terms of that fund, we have spent enough for history and we have spent enough on that type of art.

“We’ve already met the obligations that the council in 2009 made in terms of accepting that plan.

“The bigger question before us is what do we want our town to be? Are we only about history; are we only about the past, or do we want to have a lively environment in the town for all of us going forward?”

Vice Chair David Izraelevitz was bothered by the private funding option, since the subcommittee proposed moving forward with whichever statues’ funds were available. Izraelevitz felt that would create a patchwork of statues that did not really tell a story.

Izraelevitz and Assistant County Administrator Brian Bosshardt will determine which items emerging during the work session need to be placed on a future agenda for a vote.