If you haven’t read Gary Blackmer’s August 2005 report on the RACC-managed percent for the art program, you should.

So here’s the real problem. Clearly a bad decision was made with Facing The Crowd. (And let’s avoid an aesthetic argument – imagine we’re discussing a public artwork you don’t like). So what to do with a very large, very heavy, very permanent, high-profile thing which has been blessed as art, if we change our collective minds?

This is a vital difference between public art and private art. You want something I think is ugly hanging in your house? I don’t care – and I don’t have a right to care. It’s none of my business. It’s in your house. But this city is my house and your house and we need to decide collectively what art hangs here.

Can we throw them away? Melt them down and recast into a sculpture of Maurice Lucas? No, that would be indiscreet. Can we hide them in a warehouse, bury them Rose City Cemetery, pawn them off on Spokane or Stockton or Nampa, Idaho?

Should we ignore the creeping creepiness and just shuffle by? These things could literally exist indefinitely! Thousands and thousands of years! They look very sturdy. Could a bus knock one over? Could kids from Lincoln set one on fire during lunch period? Could a crazy person throw a tarp over one and start living inside the head?

What if a committee selected art for a big city museum? A disaster! The lowest common denominator of political decisions overwhelms a fine aesthetic. Bleck.

What if we hired a city curator, a person with zeal and personality and taste, able to make selections and defend them? Think Thomas Hoving – curiously one of John Buchanan’s first employers. (Read the SF Chronicle’s puff-piece on Buchanan.) HA! One, Portland can’t attract the talent. Two, we don’t have the balls to take their advice. Three, our petty covivial art scene would push itself into the forefront, demanding local purchases for gratitude.

Here’s the strikethrough version of the new city code on purchasing public art. Aside from the increase in funds, there’s not much change. (Someone cleaned up the grammar. That’s good.)

But 5.74.040 C.3. of the City code reads, The Regional Arts & Culture Council will report annually to Participating Bureaus on the disbursement of funds from the Public Art Trust Fund. No change there.

That’s good. That means someone knows how much RACC is spending on this stuff, and someday the “public art trust fund” could be a matter of public record. Until then, “informal” and “murky” remains standing procedure.

On the good side, sometimes the system works. Take a look at these cool cool brass plates adorn the front of the County Admin building on SE Hawthorne and Grand Avenue.

Connections is by Walla Walla artist Wayne Chabre. He writes on his brass plaque – “I hope this artwork makes people smile as they enter the building to conduct business with the County.” Very ambitious mission statement.

The right viewing distance from the artwork is fairly perilous – the middle of a busy street. If you can block out the flashing cars, these have the flavor of Chinese mountain paintings and fit nicely into the red brick of this old bank building. Clearly Chabre did homework – all the scale and proportion is true and informative. I like them.

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