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In wake of mural ruckus, CAC creates art review board

As Cooke Road mural goes up, commissioners frustrated at lack of oversight into public art

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The issue of public art created a rift among members of the Clintonville Area Commission at last week's monthly meeting.

Split votes saw passage of one measure creating a Committee for Review of Public Art Processes and Procedures and a resolution asking that the CAC be kept informed and involved when the members of the Columbus Art Commission are considering projects in the neighborhood.

Both the committee and the resolution stem from controversy that grew over an American Indian-themed mural currently being painted by artist Danielle Poling at the East Cooke Road railroad underpass. Some CAC members expressed complete surprise when Clintonville Historical Society President Mary Rodgers and Poling appeared at the May 1 meeting to seek the panel's blessing for the project, which already had been approved by the Columbus Art Commission.

When the pair came back June 5, only two of the seven members on hand backed the mural after some residents said they feared it would be too distracting for motorists. Art commission members subsequently rescinded the need for CAC approval, and the project is now funded and proceeding.

The review committee, proposed by D Searcy of District 9, would result in Clintonville becoming an "art desert," predicted District 3 representative Libby Wetherholt. "No artist in their right mind would want to go through two layers of bureaucracy," she said. "We will have no art coming to Clintonville at all."

"This is an exploratory process to come up with how we best get the community involved," Searcy responded.

Commission members who complained about lack of public involvement in the mural process had plenty of opportunities to attend meetings regarding the project, Nancy Kuhel of District 2 said. Their failure to do so does not mean that a committee should be created that would usurp the role of the Columbus Art Commission, she said.

"Perhaps I was intentionally kept out of the loop," Searcy said.

City code specifically allows art commission members to authorize public art, Wetherholt said. She added that commission members should consult with the city attorney's office before voting to create the committee.

Kuhel and Wetherholt were the lone "no" votes against the committee.

The resolution, sponsored by Dana Bagwell of District 5, initially called on members of the art commission to pull the plug on the Cooke Road mural.

"In light of the manner in which the art commission approved the mural project, the Clintonville Area Commission recommends that the art commission reverse its decision to approve the mural project," the document read. "Alternatively, the Clintonville Area Commission recommends that the art commission suspend its approval of the mural project so that final approval of the mural project can be included on the agenda of an upcoming hearing of the art commission."

At the urging of District 8 representative Kristopher Keller, those two paragraphs were removed.

"It's water over the dam," he said. "It's done. It's painted, mostly, so far. It doesn't accomplish anything except to cause ill will."

Miller agreed, saying the chances art commission members would halt the project are "slim to zero."

The vote to approve the resolution, which asks, among other things, that art commission members "consider and give significant weight to the position of the Clintonville Area Commission" regarding public installations in the neighborhood, was the same as the one creating the review committee.

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