A group of local artists presented a petition to the Cortez City Council on Tuesday, asking for the government to pay for public art instead of borrowing it.
Several artists attended the first council meeting in the new city hall, which is decorated with artwork on loan to the city from high school students, the Ute Mountain Ute tribe and professional Montezuma County painters and photographers. Two of the artists addressed the council during the public comment section and proposed a few ways the city might pay for public displays of artwork in the future. Mayor Karen Sheek expressed an interest in the artists’ proposal, but the council did not discuss the issue during the meeting.
Cortez painter Sonja Horoshko read a lengthy written statement, which she gave to Sheek afterward, explaining why she believed artists should be paid for public displays.
“The city pays for construction, equipment leases and purchases, electrical, plumbing and HVAC contractors,” she said. “Why should we be singled out and denied economic opportunity, and even more so, a voice in setting guidelines and policy?”
She and other like-minded artists recently formed a group called the Arts and Culture Resource Advisory Council, which they hope will be able to advise the city on issues related to public art.
Horoshko presented recommendations from the advisory council on approaches the city could take, including two written by photographer Barbara Grist. One is based on a call-for-artists program conducted by the Pagosa Springs Medical Center, where all the work on display was for sale, and one described an art lease agreement that would have to be added to the city budget. After the meeting, Horoshko suggested an art contribution program from people in the community who have already purchased local artwork and would be willing to donate it in exchange for tax credit. All these ideas would require input from arts professionals, she said.
As an example of how a public display can backfire without such input, she talked about a painting she sold to the city several years ago, which was lost until city clerk Linda Smith found it in a closet. Now it decorates a central room in Cortez City Hall under Stephen Hanson’s stained glass window. It still lacks a label.
“Those are the kinds of details that professionals can take care of,” she said.
Karen Kristin, owner of Sky Art Gallery in Cortez, also addressed the council. Although she has loaned a few of her works to the city, she said she would support a plan to generate revenue for artists in the community.
“We have a wealth of artists here, and it’s great to showcase that,” she said.
During a press tour of the new city hall the week before, City Manager Shane Hale said the council plans to rotate the building’s art displays periodically, and continues to look for local artists willing to lend their work to the city.
After Horoshko and Kristin’s presentation, Sheek said she believes local art is important, and thanked them and other artists for their contributions to the city hall.
“It’s changed a beautiful building into something that’s warm and inviting,” she said.
As of Thursday, Horoshko said she hadn’t received any other response from the city, but her email was overflowing with support for her efforts from artists and other interested citizens in the Cortez area. So far, about 50 people have joined the advisory council, she said.
“It’s a privilege to have such a positive response from the community,” she said.