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Petaluma's art plan is taking shape

The city used its public art fund to purchase Cherry Soda, a sculpture on the corner of C and Second Streets in front of Boulevard Cinemas.

JOHN O'HARA/ FOR THE ARGUS-COURIER
Published: Monday, May 6, 2013 at 8:57 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 6, 2013 at 8:57 a.m.

With a sudden flush of money coming mainly from fees paid by the developers of the Target shopping center, Petaluma’s Public Art Committee is working to use its $260,000 to bring more public art to the city’s landscape.

The first step for the committee is to get its Public Art Master Plan approved. The plan dictates how public art is funded, what constitutes art, and where it can go. It must now be approved by the City Council after the Planning Commission recently gave it the OK on a 5-1 vote.

Commissioner Dennis Elias was the only dissenter, citing concerns over the effect the plan would have on future developments.

Annee Knight, chair of the Public Arts Committee, said that she sees the Public Art Master Plan and Ordinance as a major step toward increasing the amount of artwork in town.

“It will offer direction on future projects, identify key areas throughout the city that would be good for art installation, and help enhance our city,” Knight said at the April 23 Planning Commission meeting. “We will focus on projects that reflect Petaluma’s past, present and future, as well as try to showcase our local artists.”

If the Master Plan — which has been in the making for five years — is approved by the City Council, Knight said the next step will be for the committee to engage in public outreach and education in order to begin future art installations throughout the city.

“It’s a very exciting time for placing some really great art around town,” she added.

The plan is funded by requiring builders of large-scale commercial developments to install on-site art worth 1 percent of their project’s total costs, or pay that same amount into the city’s Public Art fund.

The $260,000 that the committee currently has comes mainly from fees paid by the Target Center developers, Regency Centers, who were originally planning on installing their own art at the shopping center, but later decided to instead pay the fees to the city’s art fund.

In its current form, the master plan exempts residential developers from this requirement, a major sticking point for several planning commissioners.

“Especially with the kinds of development we’re seeing right now, I want the council to revisit making residential developers adhere to this ordinance as well,” said Planning Commission Chair Jennifer Pierre.

Commissioner Melissa Abercrombie said that she was pleased that art has again become a focus for Petaluma. “I was really excited when I read the document and I think it’s a great effort,” she said.

Much of the discussion at last Tuesday’s meeting centered on the role the Public Art Committee will play in future art installations. While the committee will use a criteria to ensure developers are either paying their fees or installing adequate art, Knight assured the commission that they won’t be judging the art on its aesthetic values.

Petaluma City Attorney Eric Danly said the Public Art Committee’s focus regarding artists will be on making sure that they meet all the city’s requirements, and not policing what type of art is installed in the city. However, according to Danly, the art will still go before the Planning Commission.

“Many different types of art can count, but the Planning Commission would have the opportunity to weigh in,” said Danly.

Despite the arts committee’s extensive efforts, several commissioners voiced concerns over the proposal, including Elias, who worried that the master plan was incomplete. “I think the draft master plan needs more work and I’m not comfortable with it,” said Elias.

Council liaison Kathy Miller said that she was very impressed with the work the Public Arts Committee did on the Master Plan. “I think it’s great for the community that these people did all this work with so little help from staff,” she said. “It’s really impressive and it will lead to a more beautiful community.”

After city staff makes some changes to the Master Plan, it will come before the City Council sometime later this year.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)

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