The latest meeting of the Fayette County (Georgia) Public Arts Committee came to order at 7pm on January 25 in the public meeting room in the county complex. First update on the agenda; In God We Trust project. Commissioner Steve Brown let everyone know that the project was no longer an art committee project, the Board of Commissioners had taken it over.
Commissioner Steve Brown said, “The Board of Commissioners threw the whole thing out and started over.”
Even though the committee no longer had control, a 10 to 15 minute discussion proceeded to dissect the project for font choice, color, size, and placement.
We learned that the infamous Photographers’ Agreement was still with the county attorney.
Moving on to the Break Room project we heard all about the redecoration of a private, county employee break room; carpet choice and a photo depicting something resembling a Tiki Bar inset into the wall. (This is where that $300 Keurig coffee pot is going.) None of this was business of the art committee. Due to public comments, the Board of Commissioners switched funding for this project to a ‘contingency fund’ and away from the art budget. There is art going into the finished space. High school students painted canvases in the style of Wayne Thiebaud. Cakes and ice cream cones in a pop art style will decorate the walls in the employee breakroom. In October the committee heard the paintings were completed. Last night we were told only one was ready to hang. As far as I know there was no Artists’ Agreement written by the county attorney for this project. Total for this project is just under $3300, no compensation for the artists.
The animal shelter project was next. The shelter needs repairs to the building inside and out. The outside of the building is scheduled for a renovation later this year or early next year. That does not slow the art committee from moving forward with painting metal panels to attach to the exterior. The committee was not interested in a mural project here. Someone from the crowd added that a mural at the animal shelter, something like at the water plant, could be great. People adopting would be able to have their picture taken in front of it. They could be shared on social media and in the local paper. The mural idea for the animal shelter was shot down. The Water Treatment Plant loves their outdoor mural so much, they want something inside. If this mural is so well received, why not do something similar for the animal shelter instead of clunky metal panels? It would cost less and be seen easily from the busy road. But Commissioner Brown says there is no need to see any of the art on the animal shelter from the road. A roadway traveled by many each day on their way to three schools and a busy shopping area.
Then came the eggs – Easter Eggs. It’s too late to get anything going for Easter, 2016. Commissioner Brown thinks Fayette should become the county of eggs.
“Does anyone know who makes the cast things, and they’re painted, like Newnan does? The large figures, a lot of cities paint them, Athens did bulldogs. If we find a company that makes those, we might be the only egg out of the whole bunch.”
Next another project opportunity for the art committee. A local elementary school has an old mural and would like a new one.
When Commissioner Brown finished selling the idea to everyone he asked, “Does this sound like something we should get involved with?”
A local artist attending her first committee meeting spoke up and said, “No.” She went on to say that the school system had a great fine art department to use and this should not be committee business but handled through the school system.
Discussion began about how most, if not all recent, projects are for student artists. There is no balance to projects the committee becomes involved in and those initiated by the committee seem more like decorating/renovation projects in county office space.
This committee spends their budget on just about anything besides art; IKEA benches, wall paint, frames, canvases, brushes; but where is the payment to an artist for their vision…their work? Some may think I am in this looking for a piece of the budget. I am not. I have made a public pledge that I would sell no work nor take a commission from this committee. I am a concerned citizen with knowledge of the art world and would like to see growing art and culture opportunities in my home county. It would be beneficial for the students and local hobbyists to be able to interact with professional exhibiting artists, curators, collectors, etc. to learn and grow.
Comments from the spectators increased asking about the direction of the committee, past and future projects. Commissioner Brown instructed committee members that they were free to leave since he knew they had families and kids and needed to get home. They did not need to stay to hear all of “this.” Other members of the community in attendance voiced their concern over the lack of depth in the projects and unwillingness of the committee to accept outside ideas.
Commissioner Brown said, “Well let’s just give the people an opportunity to leave and we’ll have the other argument, this is, we are getting way off the agenda.”
I pointed out to him that this is a meeting of the public arts committee and we were at the section of the agenda for questions and comments.
I asked Commissioner Brown how much of the budget has been spent for art.
“I thought you met with Steve Rapson (County Administrator) and he gave you those numbers already. He told me you already met with him and he gave you that,” he shot back at me.
“Yes, but do you know that,” I asked again.
Others in attendance looked to him, waiting for an answer to my question.
"I don't know the specific, it's thousands of dollars," he finally answered.
He was referring to one project, the water plant mural. The muralist was paid $3,000 in four installments. The Fayette County Public Arts Committee has spent more than twice this on incidentals and art supplies for student art.
Others spoke up about the direction of the committee – such a high number of projects involving students.
I mentioned that I had extended my hand to the committee with writing calls for entry, securing jurors with credibility, and working through the photographers’ agreement.
Commissioner Brown said, “If you want to offer some suggestions, send them to me.”
“I did,” I replied, “last September.”
At this point in the evening, Commissioner Brown stated, “It’s deteriorating, it’s deteriorating. Let’s call the meeting, let’s call the meeting. It’s falling apart.”
Nothing was falling apart. There was a discussion and attendees asking questions. Were these questions the committee did not want to answer?
At one point during the meeting Commissioner Brown stated, “Public art in our context with this committee is not really an economic engine, you don’t create the economic engine with a volunteer committee and a meager budget and having a few volunteers try to do things.”
In my opinion, this tells me the committee is made up of the wrong people. I know of plenty groups doing very well with volunteers and a low, and I mean l-o-w, budget, sometimes no budget. It also shows Commissioner Brown’s lack of awareness at what a thriving arts program can do for a community. By not supporting art and showing its value, no pay to artists, the committee is influencing county residents to see art should be free.
I suppose the only big-ish idea that came from this meeting was the eggs all over Fayette. Again, student artists were suggested. I think the committee has egg on their faces. Commissioner Brown recently called me hostile. I am merely holding him and this committee accountable.
And to be clear, yes I met with the county administrator to request the financials of this committee. A stack of invoice copies were placed on a table. Nothing was broken down by project. Some of the invoices were hard to read. Along with another concerned citizen we had to piece together what went with what project as best we could. After that request, the county digitized the invoices and put them on the website. You can view them at this LINK.