The fate of St. Joseph’s Public Art Project may well hang in the balance tonight when St. Joseph City Commissioners determine whether they want the project to continue, give it a rest for a year or two, or allow it to fade into the lore of the city.
Susan Solon, the city’s Communications Director will retire soon, and she has dispatched a letter to the commission which they will study tonight. In that letter Solon suggests, “The question the City Commission needs to ask themselves is whether public art continues to be a need for economic growth in our downtown or has it fulfilled its purpose. Even though this project will be missed by many, it is my opinion that it has lived out its life with much success, and that the need may not be there at this juncture.”
Some discussions have taken place regarding the possibility for St. Joseph Today to add the Public Art Project to its bailiwick, however Solon tells the commission: “I certainly do not want to speak for St. Joseph Today, but it appears that they are in agreement with taking a break from public art to see whether or not it is a key element to the downtown’s economic future. It may be time for a change; a time to bring in new and fresh ideas to take public art’s place.”
Solon’s impending retirement forces the issue because she has been the prime motivator behind the 15 year run of the project and handles it every year from beginning to end. She has met with City Commisioners Getty and Goos in recent weeks to share the history of the project and its mission, and admits quite frankly that is is difficult to measure the success of such a project, pointing nevertheless, to the increased foot traffic over the long run and a steady stream of positive feedback. She tells the commission, “I want to believe that public art did its job and has been extremely successful.”
Giving a bit of history to the full commission, Solon notes, “When public art began in 2004, the downtown was struggling with a quarter of its store fronts vacant in the winter months. There were always vacancies in the summer, as well; in fact, several of us marketers on two occasions traveled up the coast calling on boutiques and high end restaurants trying to persuade them to expand to our charming city. Also, keep in mind that in 2004, we hadn’t yet opened Silver Beach Center nor was the Whirlpool Compass Fountain up and running yet. So, as an economic tool, the idea of public art came about. Today, the downtown is bustling with foot traffic and store fronts are filled, and doing well. Additionally, there are currently over 60 annual events held each year in and around the downtown.”
She also points out, “As you are aware, the Downtown Master Plan is underway and may very well be the vehicle for future discussion involving economic entertainment within the Downtown District. As a side note, even though public art’s budget of $75,000 is already approved for the 2019 summer, the Commission may want to utilize those dollars toward payment of the selected consultant overseeing the Downtown Master Plan.”
She goes on to say, “Keep in mind, however, that a small portion of the budget, approximately $4,000, will need to cover upcoming costs for the auction taking place on Saturday, September 22. With that, at this writing, two pieces from the current project have been pre-sold for $2,000 each.”
Solon tells the city that the project “has been one of my proudest endeavors,” and thanks the commission and the entire community for supporting it for 15 years now.
In the final analysis, the city itself will have to determine the fate of the Public Art project and that could happen tonight, or be pushed off to future meetings and discussions. Stay tuned.