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Public Should Have Role in Art Decisions

June 13, 1991

Your coverage of the public art in Claremont (Times, June 6) was excellent. I want to comment on two points that I think are revealing.

The first has to do with the cost of the installation. You cited the cost of the honorarium to the artist as $4,000, leaving the implication that this was the full cost, which was covered by a private donation. However, at over 400 linear feet, the materials alone would have cost at least $4,000.

If the artist's honorarium was $4,000, the material and installation perhaps $5,000, and other expenses direct and indirect for time spent by city employees were added in, the cost would be much more than the honorarium alone and would require funds beyond the private contribution.

I had heard that the cost was covered from a number of sources, including city funds. We deserve a full and accurate accounting of the cost.

The second point concerns the comments you quoted that people had written on the sheets placed at the site. You chose good quotes and quoted them accurately. However, you did not convey the fact that there were at least 10 negative comments for every one positive.

Why is there so much outrage about this piece? Could it be that bad? I consider the piece to be a fairly routine effort in a tired genre, and I expect most observers of the art scene would say something similar, but the quality of the piece is nearly irrelevant.

The outrage comes because people feel that the piece was imposed on them. A perfectly nice park, and a valued haven of green and openness in the downtown, is now occupied by an urban monstrosity.

Kids can't throw Frisbees there now, we have difficulty running there, we can't picnic and we can't see across it anymore. We don't want to see this thing, and someone else decreed that we see it.

The piece was apparently intended as a kind of spatial metaphor, but it looks now as though its more complete meaning has to do with political power and cultural elitism. (It is clearly more interesting now that there is some reaction to it.)

I am certain that people would find it less ugly if they felt they had had a part in its selection and good information now that it is installed. Let's hope that future art projects in Claremont do not fall victim to such interpretation.

If the public is not involved, public art will not be accepted.

WILLIAM P. BANKS

Claremont

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