2018-09-06 / News

Councilors seeking volunteers to help create a policy for public art displays

BY TIM RIEL

The town will begin soliciting residents for an ad hoc committee to draft a public art policy, which could determine whether the “Whale’s Tail” sculpture will be fast-tracked to East Ferry.

The town council unanimously voted Tuesday to advertise for volunteer members. The specifics of this board, however, are not expected to be finalized until the Sept. 17 council meeting. In the meantime, the councilors want to digest “the tremendous amount of information” they heard.

Residents on both sides of the issue packed the council chambers, with comments from more than a dozen stakeholders echoing applause and laughter through the crowd.

The issue surfaced after a group of residents raised more than $100,000 to commission a permanent sculpture from Hamilton Avenue’s Peter Diepenbrock. The marine art would be a replica of the installation that temporarily graced the parking lot green for two weeks in July. The group, after approaching the councilors in August, was told to garner community support for a permanent installation near the harbor. Using no taxpayer money, the sculpture would be donated to the town.

“It’d be a shame to lose this opportunity,” said Joanie Swift, a member of the fundraising group.

Since that Aug. 20 meeting, the group used newspaper advertisements, promotional postcards and an aggressive ground game to stir interest. Looking at the size of the audience, it seemed to work.

Avenue B’s Ken Newman, a member of the state public art commission, said the town simultaneously could push forward the Diepenbrock project while drafting a policy.

“This does not have to be a giant bureaucratic process,” he said.

Richard Boren, an Intrepid Lane resident and chairman of the zoning board, agreed.

“This project might not be around a year from now,” he said.

Peter Elsworth, of Norman Road, warned the councilors “not to look a gift horse in the mouth.” He called the sculpture “fabulously dramatic,” which was echoed by Intrepid Lane’s Mark Holland.

“This is something that is clearly inspirational,” he said. “How long will we wait for something like this to repeat?”

Support for the project, however, was far from unanimous. Bon- net View’s Dick Allphin recommended putting the deadline aside; previously, Diepenbrock said he would need to start in the winter to have the piece ready by spring.

“I’m not in favor of putting anything in the way of the bridge, the bay, (Clingstone) or the Newport shore,” he said. “Let’s take it very slowly.”

Jeff Anderson, a Ledge Road resident, said stakeholders include more than just homeowners and business owners near the wharf.

“Stakeholders aren’t just the people who work downtown,” he said. “They’re all the people who pay their taxes and drive through the center of town every day.”

Councilman Blake Dickinson said the idea of public art should be broadly discussed. Before the August meeting, Dickinson said he was lobbied about this “being a great thing.”

“It didn’t need to be sold to me,” he said. “Change is inevitable. Our job is to manage change so everyone finds this change palpable.”

A handful of residents questioned the rush. Swift said these donors, roughly 50 residents pledging between $50 to $12,000, may not be around with their money if the project isn’t streamlined.

Diepenbrock, however, said the rush was predicated on enthusiasm. “I’m an impatient guy,” he quipped. “I’m here. I’m happy to do it.”

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