Hilliard's public-art policy is still on the drawing board, but it was the subject of a lively discussion during the city council strategic planning retreat.

Hilliard's public-art policy is still on the drawing board, but it was the subject of a lively discussion during the city council strategic planning retreat.

Council President Brett Sciotto said he and Councilwoman Kelly McGivern met with the Hilliard Arts Council (HAC) in September. The HAC presented a "Public Art Policy Proposal" at the meeting.

The proposal calls for the establishment of a volunteer Hilliard Public Art Committee consisting of a member appointed by council, a member appointed by the zoning commission and three members appointed by the HAC.

The proposal also calls for a "Percent for Art Program" that would have 1 percent of a capital improvement project costing $500,000 or more spent on art or a public art fund.

The city administration is opposed to such a program.

"I was opposed to any kind of program that resulted in increased costs for public projects," Mayor Don Schonhardt told ThisWeek, "not specifically just public art, but any kind of a program that simply added additional costs or burden on the taxpayers to cover the cost of public improvements."

"We're already hurting in terms of capital investment," Sciotto said, "and ... we don't want to make it more expensive to do business here."

Councilman Jim Ashenhurst said in his experience with the Ohio Department of Public Safety, public art "was the biggest boondoggle I've ever seen."

The HAC proposal also offers criteria for evaluation and approval of artwork, regulation and guidelines for public art and murals. For example, with respect to murals, the proposal suggests work should maintain "the high character of community development and would not be a detriment to the stability of value and the welfare of surrounding property, structures and residents and to the general welfare and happiness of the community."

In 2010, Hilliard's Board of Zoning Appeals ruled against a homeowner's hand-painted sunflower mural, saying it violated the Old Hilliard Design Guide.

"At this moment, Hilliard does not have a policy on public art," HAC president Ken Brenneman in an email. "We need to define what public art is and then be able to implement it in the future. There needs to be an agency or panel to regulate it for approval or non-approval. If this is done, then we will avoid having an incident like that of the sunflower, which turned into an embarrassment for our community."

At the retreat, council members and city directors were divided over whether the mural was covered by the guide or if new code were needed.

Some were also concerned with First Amendment issues in regard to art.

"You don't have a lot of lawsuits here in the city, and I don't want to create a lot of lawsuits for the city," Councilman Nathan Painter said. "If we're going to do this, it has to be done right. We are going to create a headache if this is not done right."

"Art, by its very nature, is subjective," said Law Drector Pam Fox. "One man's idea of art is not another man's idea of art."

Others said communities like Dublin and Bucyrus have established effective art policies that attract visitors. Some also wondered what the city should do if people wanted to donate their time and materials to create public art. But Councilman Joseph Erb said he was concerned about the costs to install and maintain the work.

"I don't want to burden the next generation to have to pay for something we put into place," he said.

"Why do we say we don't want to invest funds on public art when we spend millions of dollars in Old Hilliard to put in arches and streetscapes?" said Councilman Albert Iosue. "If we deem public art will improve our community, it's an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars. It may not be now, but it may be two to 10 years from now."

Iosue said he didn't have a position on public art, but he felt a working group should start looking into the matter. McGivern said the topic of public art is likely to come up again as a possible means to promote Hilliard.

The matter was left undecided.

"Many cities around the nation have embraced art as a way to make their downtowns more attractive and unique," Sciotto said in an email. "We are home to some very talented artists and I think the topic certainly deserves further discussion."