A reluctant Newport Beach City Council mulled over the city Arts Commission’s agenda item on Tuesday night.
As the agency responsible for selecting the city’s public art displays, the Arts Commission had requested both funds and contract approval for Arts Orange County to manage and install Phase III of the city’s outdoor rotating sculpture exhibition.
The budget amendment for outsourced project management, plus an additional $50,000 to serve as an honorarium, or payment, to the artists whose works are included in the upcoming exhibition, totaled $155,731.
While members of council questioned the necessity of a contractor, Mayor Kevin Muldoon asked if any of the work could be done by city staff.
Tim Hetherton, Library Services Director, who presented on behalf of the Arts Commission, said some tasks could possibly be done by staff, but most of it should be left to the experts.
“It would probably be more cost effective to go with Arts OC,” Hetherton replied, referring to Arts Orange County, who managed both Phase I and II of the sculpture exhibition. If they did not, he said, “you would end up with a phenomenon called ‘plop art,’ where you just pick a place and plop it anywhere.”
“I won’t give my response to that,” Muldoon replied.
As debate ensued, a motion to approve the arts commission’s funds and contract came from an unlikely place. Scott Peotter, who earlier in the evening was served with an intent to recall petition from a group of citizens, moved to approve the agenda item with three conditions.
The first condition was that the statue of Ronald Reagan, which has resided in Bonita Canyon Sports Park since 2011, be moved to Civic Center Park during Phase III.
Condition two was that the $50,000 honorarium that is divided among the artists while their work is on display will be funded solely by private donations in future installments, starting with Phase IV.
The third condition proposed by Peotter was that the fee paid to the contractor is to be reduced by half, beginning with Phase IV.
The motion was seconded by Will O’Neill, who noted that he was seconding it for “purposes of discussion,” and it passed five to one, with Jeff Herdman as the dissenting vote.
The Arts Commission now has the task of finding a home for the Reagan statue in Civic Center Park, and will advise city council later this year, when they present the next round of sculptures and their proposed locations.
The Reagan statue will be included as one of the ten works to be installed, not the eleventh, even though the city already owns the statue.
Originally destined for Civic Center when the current City Hall was under construction in 2011, the Reagan statue has always been a subject of contention. Residents objected to a political figure being installed at City Hall. Castaways Park was chosen at its next home, but that location drew protests as well. Finally landing in Bonita Canyon Sports Park (then Keith Curry’s district and presently Jeff Herdman’s), the Reagan statue was also the victim of vandals who tried to pull it down in 2012.
While certain to be controversial once again, there was no public comment at Tuesday’s meeting on the issue. Coincidentally, at the beginning of Tuesday’s city council meeting, Mayor Muldoon stated that moving the Reagan statue to Civic Center park was an agenda item he’d like to see in future meetings. After Peotter’s motion, it seems he got his wish.
Throughout the world, even the most impoverished nations have beautiful sculpture in their parks. Local heroes — writers, composers, civic leaders and those who were historically important — have their contributions memokrialized with sculptures to honor their significnt contributions. In these times of of crass “altered facts”, it seems to me that we need significant local sculpture to provide inspiration for our children as well as the rest of us. Leave the Reagan sculpture where it is. . . . . . . it is a beautiful reminder of a man who said what he meant and meant what he said.