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Charleston's public art needs overseer, study says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The city of Charleston needs a commission and a staff professional to oversee and build its collection of public art, says a report from consultants hired under a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Although the report has not been released publicly, Charleston Area Alliance Vice President Susie Salisbury summarized it Wednesday for Charleston Urban Renewal Authority board members. Salisbury wrote the NEA grant application and talked CURA board members last year into contributing $25,000 in matching funds.

She handed out copies of a guidebook to the city's public art that was published after consultants from McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory inventoried about 50 murals, sculptures and statues across the city. The book was a runaway success when it came out during FestivALL, Salisbury said.

"We've already had two people talk to us about sponsorship of the second edition," she said. The first run of 5,000 books cost about $17,000 for design and printing.

The new version would include some changes, like the second set of Interstate pier murals along Kanawha Boulevard, Salisbury said.

After carefully measuring and checking the condition of the city's public art this spring, the consultants wrote their final report and created a database, Salisbury said. The report, which arrived a couple of weeks ago, contains specific recommendations for each piece.

As an illustration, she showed the report for the Henry Gassaway Davis statue in Davis Park. Consultants said the bronze casting was of good quality but had been neglected over the years, with no evidence of a paste wax coating needed to protect it from the elements.

"Light green streaking is visible and has left the sculpture extremely disfigured," the report says. "If left unprotected the damage will be much worse." It suggests a $1,260 test to see if the figure can be "over patinated." If not, it needs to be stripped and repatinated.

City leaders and folks from the arts community in the public arts steering committee set aside $20,000 of the grant money to start a development fund, another report recommendation, Salisbury said. "We decided we would use that to leverage additional money.

"One of the many recommendations -- and we've been batting this around -- is to establish a public arts commission. The second thing is to hire a professional staff person."

That person would be a city employee, she said later, "someone that's got an art background ... how to manage, how to promote, how to create educational programs. They'd probably wind up being a grant writer. They would be the liaison with all the owners. 

"We haven't had a chance to get the steering committee together to write the executive summary [to the report] that outlines what our next steps are," she said. That should happen in the next two weeks. "It's on my priority list.

"We want to work with the owners of the public art, give them their individual report and the maintenance recommendations. That's 50-some reports."

Also Wednesday, CURA board members approved, without comment, a proposal to ban certain types of "undesirable" businesses from the Washington Street corridor by revising the East End Community Renewal Plan.

Ric Cavender, director of East End Main Street, said he'd talked to existing business owners in the last month. "There's been a lot of positive feedback. They'll be able to watch their business grow," he said.

The issue now goes to City Council for final approval.

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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