Three Bayside “Swirl” Benches Scrapped by Art Commitee

Ted Musgrave, Public Services Dept., Who Wrote the Draft Guidelines for Temporary Public Art, Approved by the PPAC.

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,448)

The Portland Public Art Committee voted unanimously this afternoon to terminate its relationship, very reluctantly, with SkyDesign, a Washington, D.C. studio the Committee had chosen to build three benches, to be located along the Bayside Trail. The Committee was recently informed by the company that it was unable to produce the benches at the agreed upon price of $42,500; rather, it would  cost the company double that amount to produce them for the city. The Committee voted down an offer to pay $42,500 for two of the three benches.

By way of background, the process of selelcting benches began almost four years ago when the Committee put out an RFP. Following an exhibit at the Portland Public Library of the final submissions, the Committee decided to reissue the RFP and in a slightly different format.  Those second submissions were narrowed down to three – one of which was the design by SkyDesign.  At its monthly meeting in September of 2011, the Committee decided to recommend to the City Council its choice for SkyDesign. The other two finalists were Gary Haven Smith, NH. and Aaron Stephan, a Bayside resident.  The committee voted that it would be interested in the future in working with Smith and voted not to continue to work with Stephan. (One of Stephan’s strongest supporter was Andy Graham, chairman, Creative Portland.) However, many in the Bayside area were opposed to the swirl benches so the Committee decided to delay the recommendation to the city council and mount a positive lobbying campaign with the City Council and the public.  Last June, the City Council unanimously voted to accept the recommendation of the Committee to purchase the SkyDesign benches.

Recapping, last September, the Committee was informed of internal difficulties with SkyDesign whch make it difficult to complete the project  within the $42,500 budget.  This afternoon the Committee voted to end the relationship. No contract between the two parties had been signed.   Outgoing Committee member, Peggy Golden,  suggested starting over with something already built; that brought up, once again, the name of Gary Haven Smith, NH.  Did someone say “Wal-Mart?”

New business included a draft of guidelines for temporary art display on public property that was presented to the Committee and approved by it.  Ted Musgrave, Department of Public Services Department, author of the 7 page document, answered questions at the meeting.  “This is a rigorous and demanding process.” said Alice Spencer, former Committee chair.  “We want it to be  first rate,” she said.  The final version will be read next Wednesday evening, at the Committee’s launch party for its new web page at the East End Beach.

The issue surfaced last October 17th, when an applicant appeared before the Historic Preservation Committee seeking approval to install two iron sculptures on the Eastern Promenade for one year.  The Committee tabled the application because it said there was no structure in place to make decisions on temporary public art on public property.  For more background, please visit Post # 1,263, dated 11/21/12 and Post # 1,240, dated 10/17/12.

Julia Kirby, Hill resident, was introduced as a new member of the Portland Public Art Committee.

City councilor David Marshall did not attend the meeting and in fact because of a conflict with another committee, has not attended in months.