An American Indian-themed mural proposed for the railroad underpass on East Cooke Road failed to earn the support of Clintonville Area Commission members at last week's monthly meeting.
The commission's decision whether to back the project was delayed at the May meeting after some on the panel expressed dismay that they were hearing about the proposal for the first time from Clintonville Historical Society President Mary Rodgers and artist Danielle Poling, even though they had appeared before the Columbus Art Commission in February.
At June's CAC meeting, several residents voiced their objections to the mural for two main reasons: First, they felt a large mural on each side of the railroad underpass would distract motorists; second, they wanted public art to receive a good deal of public input, including who the artist might be and the theme of the work.
"I feel it would be dangerous," stated Martha Trout.
"That is not a straight road," Virginia Songstad said. "It seems there ought to be other sites that are more appropriate."
Jane Hoffelt spoke up in support of the project, saying one of the purposes of public art is to reduce motorists' speed.
"I think we should slow down traffic throughout Clintonville," she added.
"This is an artist-initiated project," Rodgers said in response to questions from detractors who wanted to know why only one artist was being considered for the mural.
Poling approached her with the idea, Rodgers said, and Poling believed the historical society should support it as a means of paying homage to the Hopewell and Adena Indians who once lived in the area.
"We feel this is an excellent opportunity for us to reincorporate those cultural symbols in our landscape," Rodgers said.
Members of the commission said they had heard from constituents over the last month, and they by and large agreed with the objections raised by audience members.
"They just feel it's not the right location," said Kristopher Keller, who represents District 8.
Libby Wetherholt of District 3 voiced her support for the mural, saying it would improve "walkability" in the area.
She added the large mural at the East North Broadway railroad underpass -- also a project of the historical society -- has been a "tremendous boost" for pedestrians in that area.
"I just think it's a wonderful thing," Wetherholt said.
She also said her interpretation of the way the art commission operates is that the CAC's support was a courtesy, and the mural could still go ahead as planned.
District 9 representative D Searcy proposed the CAC create policies and procedures for deciding the location and themes of public-art installations.
"The process should be widely and publicly vetted," she said.
Rodgers expressed some consternation at the notion that all future public art in Clintonville would be placed on hold until such time as the area commission members could devise a process for public participation.
"I like the mural," Chairman Daniel B. Miller said. "I don't really think it's a safety concern."
However, Miller added that whether the East Cooke Road underpass is the right location is something that has to be considered.
"I find no fault in the applicant for not following a process, because there hasn't been one," Miller said.
Only Wetherholt and District 1's Rob Wood voted to support the mural. Joining Searcy and Keller in opposing it were Dana Bagwell of District 5 and Randy Ketcham of District 6.
Miller abstained, as is his practice save to break tie votes.
Nancy Kuhel of District 2, who was in favor of sending a letter of support at the May meeting, was absent, as was Jason Meek of District 7. Searcy said she had spoken with Meek about the mural and he indicated he would not have voted in favor of it at the Cooke Road site.