Amherst Town Council moves to get new arts funding bylaw drafted

  • Amherst Town Council President Lynn Griesemer supported following council protocol in forming a work group to draft a Percent for Art bylaw.

Staff Writer
Published: 8/24/2019 2:20:09 PM

AMHERST — Sensing some urgency to craft a new bylaw to dedicate a portion of spending on large capital projects to support public art, the Town Council took steps last week to establish a work group that will explore how to bring a new proposal forward.

The Town Council voted unanimously last Monday to have the Governance, Organization and Legislation Committee examine the possible membership and charge for the work group, which will determine how to enact a Percent for Art Bylaw.

Town Meeting adopted the “Half Percent for Art Bylaw” in the spring of 2017, but the measure failed to get necessary approvals from the state Legislature.

Under that proposal, 0.5 percent of the construction costs for new or renovated municipal buildings — as well as any capital renovations costing more than $100,000 — would have gone into a public art fund to be used for visual art and performing arts. The purpose was “to direct the integration of artwork into public spaces and public works projects in the town of Amherst through a well-administered and appropriately funded public art program.”

The town plans to embark on more than $100 million in building projects in the coming years, including a new elementary school, a Department of Public Works facility and fire station, and a renovated Jones Library —all of which could be subject to the bylaw.

The decision to have the council subcommittee develop the work group came even though District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen had drafted a list of potential members and what the group’s charge should be, that could have been approved by the full council.

Schoen’s memo suggested that members would have included representatives from the Finance Committee and Community Resources Committee, committees that discussed the bylaw in June and July, the current and past chairmen of the Public Art Commission, and a designee of Town Manager Paul Bockelman.

The charge would have been to take the original bylaw and address a series of questions raised, and then bring revisions, after a review by town attorney KP Law, to the council’s Sept. 23 meeting.

“The group would meet and get something done in about 30 days,” Schoen said.

But At-Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke objected to this expedited process, saying that under council rules, establishing a work group has to go to the Governance, Organization and Legislation Committee, and that any recommendations the group subsequently makes it have to be brought before that subcommittee, along with the Community Resources and Finance committees, before coming for a vote at the full council.

Council President Lynn Griesemer agreed the council should follow the established process and not set precedent. District 1 Councilor Sarah Swartz concurred, noting that having all charges for work groups and committees reviewed in this manner maintains c​​​​​​onsistency.

Other councilors were skeptical,but agreed to the process after some discussion.

District 2 Councilor Patricia DeAngelis said creating a work group should be about flexibility and quickness. District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam said she liked the idea of a Sept. 23 due date for the work group’s recommendations because she is concerned that public artwork be put into the new dog park being built.

At-Large Councilor Andy Steinberg said the council could cause damage by rushing the study, and added that he’s isn’t sure the dog park would even be eligible for the bylaw since it is largely being funded by a grant from the private Stanton Foundation in Cambridge, not town money.

Still, Schoen said she is concerned about long delays created by the council.

“We could create a bureaucratic nightmare where nothing ever gets out of our process,” Schoen said.

District 4 Councilor Steve Schreiber said the Percent for Art Bylaw should be a priority because it was passed by Town Meeting.

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

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