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Plan creates committees to work together to give Lincoln quality public art

Plan creates committees to work together to give Lincoln quality public art

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Public art can be expensive to buy and maintain.

Public art can create enormous controversy.

But good public art is an integral part of a community's quality of life, giving residents a sense of place and attracting visitors who spend money, according to Lincolnites who helped develop a new process for selecting and placing public art.

The process, developed by an ad hoc committee created by Mayor Chris Beutler, attempts to deal with both the expense and the potential controversy.

It includes creating a master plan for public art that will "promote quality over quantity," according to its supporters.

A private committee, associated with the Lincoln Foundation, would raise money for artwork and its maintenance and make decisions about spending that donated money, Chris Connolly, an assistant city attorney, explained during a City Council public hearing Monday.

The committee would plan, promote and place artwork, said Steve Wake, co-chairman of that  committee.

A separate public committee, appointed by the mayor, would make sure the placement was appropriate and the artwork was "not terribly controversial," giving the city final control, Connolly said.

The process includes the promised collaboration of the two committees and a new city ordinance that changes the way the city approves individual pieces of public art.  

However, two City Council members had concerns about some of the changes.

Jon Camp worried that the multiple committees and new approval process would add more bureaucracy.

"I like the concept. I like the idea of public art," Camp said. "But this sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare.

"Let's not create a beast," he said.

Jonathan Cook pointed out that the City Council, which currently approves permits for public art, would have almost no power under the proposed ordinance.

A committee appointed by the mayor, not the council, would make the final decisions on specific pieces of art.

The council could ask the mayor to reject a particular piecek, but that resolution would not be  binding.

And the council could not amend the master plan for public art, only accept it or reject it, under the current ordinance language.

Cook said that a ban on any council amendments to the master plan was unusual and "weird."

That limitation was based on the amount of work that will go into creating the master plan before it reaches the council, Connolly said.

"I have no desire to negotiate artwork," Cook said.

But the council has the ability to change other major planning documents also created through an involved public process, Cook noted.

"This outlaws any changes," he said. "If you think we are going to gut the whole thing, that's unlikely."

The council is expected to vote on the new ordinance at next Monday's meeting.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 402-473-7250 or


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