Public art bylaw resurfaces in Amherst 

  • Cambridge artist David Fichter works on the Amherst Hotel portion of his recreation of the Amherst Community History Mural on Thursday afternoon, Oct. 3, 2019. His original mural, completed in 2005, was lost with the demolition of the former Carriage Shops on East Pleasant Street. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/17/2020 12:40:03 PM

AMHERST — A carousel in New York City featuring animals and other creatures to ride on crafted from children’s illustrations is among art funded through a dedicated pot of money derived from city-funded construction projects.

Since 1982, New York’s Department of Cultural Affairs has overseen this Percent for Art program and commissioned artwork in the city.

While such an elaborate and expensive piece is unlikely to happen in Amherst, the town may soon join New York, and only Cambridge in Massachusetts, as places with similar Percent for Art initiatives.

Envisioned as a way to provide money for permanent art installations as part of municipal building projects, the Town Council is nearing adoption of the bylaw.

Under the proposal, 0.5% of the budget for capital construction projects over $1 million will go toward on-site visual arts projects that will become integral elements of the building or property.

For William Kaizen, chairman of the Amherst Public Art Commission, the bylaw is an important way to bring more art into the community, pointing to the mural by Judith Inglese affixed to the Bangs Community Center that epitomizes public art.

"I would just say maybe now's the time that we could step up and to stop being so stodgy and create through the town itself an even stronger arts community and culture than we've had before here," Kaizen said.

He said the bylaw will also serve economic development, creative placemaking and social justice and is suitable in the time of COVID-19, because this art would likely be outdoors and viewed in small numbers with appropriate social distancing.

The bylaw appears to have support from councilors, with District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen on both the Finance Committee and an ad hoc committee that have endorsed it.

For eligible costs of a project at $10 million or $20 million, the public art would add $2 to $2.50 to the typical residential tax bill per year when borrowing is done over a 20- or 30-year period.

Town Council can also lower or eliminate public art by a majority vote, and can cancel an approved project if it will lead to construction delays.

The bylaw was originally approved by Town Meeting in spring 2017, but failed to get necessary approvals from the state Legislature.

Under the new bylaw, artists will work with town officials and the building project manager and architect. Most of the authority is with the town manager for oversight.

Performing arts will not be funded, which Kaizen said is unfortunate. “Hopefully the town will find other ways to do so,” Kaizen said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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