Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Council Delays Plan to Axe UrbanArt Commission Contract

Posted By on Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 11:51 AM

click to enlarge urbanart_logo_color.jpg
Despite calling the UrbanArt Commission (UAC) a “failed organization,” Memphis City Council chairman Berlin Boyd agreed Tuesday to hold a plan that would end the city’s involvement with the group.

Boyd brought a resolution to the council Tuesday that would have ended the city’s contract with UAC and placed the public art process in the mayor’s office. He said he’d bring it back in a month, once the council had more time to hear more information on the matter.

The move comes after a surprise vote by the council to cut $300,000 from UAC during budget negotiations. Some council members criticized UAC for not spending enough money with local artists and minority artists. However, council member Edmund Ford Jr. convinced other members to give UAC $350,000 for a public mural program next fiscal year.

On Tuesday, Boyd begrudgingly held his proposal after questions from other council members. However, Boyd said he’d bring it back to the table “if anyone makes a motion to give (UAC) that $300,000 back.”

“I’m not willing to fund them a penny,” Boyd said. “Really, I’d like to take that $350,000 that councilman Ford put in place for the mural program.”
Boyd argued UAC’s contract does not give the council any oversight of the group’s work. He said that contract has been given to them exclusively every year since the program was established in 2002.

“It stinks and it’s not fair,” Boyd said.

He said the group rarely meets it spending goals with minority and women artists. Even though the group has promised improve, Boyd said “I’m tired of listening to false hope.” He also said he doesn’t like some of the art selected, noting that some of it is “non-reflective of the districts” in which they’re placed.

Pushed on his argument by other council members, Boyd said he doesn’t “come to a gun fight with a knife” and said some artists told him there is nepotism in the UAC program. However, he never delved into that topic saying he doesn’t like to “air dirty laundry” and that “I don’t really want to go into that.” Boyd left this piece of the argument simply noting that “some people are not at the table.”

Council member Worth Morgan, though, said accusations like that should be heard.

“If there are accusations of nepotism, that should be the forefront of our conversation, rather than shying away from it,” Morgan said. “We need to factor that into our decision-making process.”
Council member Joe Brown spoke plainly, saying, “we all know what this thing is about. (The UAC) hasn’t been inclusive.”
click to enlarge Lauren Kennedy
  • Lauren Kennedy
UAC executive director Lauren Kennedy said he group has been asked to bid for its contract in years past. Also, she said the city public arts ordinance does not now include spending goals for women and minority artists and that she hoped those goals would be included. She said her group has been able to leverage $535,000 in private funds from the city funding.

Kennedy made clear that the UAC does not select artists for this taxpayer-funded projects. That’s the work of the Public Art Oversight Committee, she said, and she urged the council to appoint a representative to that board.

Boyd’s proposal would have put the public art program into the parks division. The new director of that division, Maria Munoz-Blanco, who has public arts experience as she once served as the executive director of the Cultural Arts Council of Houston and Harris County in Texas.

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