A Lump Of Coal Called Public Art

edited December 2014 in Arts

From the sculptors of Salida, we the undersigned do proclaim:

After working so hard through channels to get public art sanctioned, chosen, and installed this year, we the artists with large scale installation experience and potentials got a lump of coal in our stockings from the City Council, and especially pointedly from City staff Dara McDonald and Michael Varnum.

You may have seen Shark's sculpture at the SteamPlant and Shelby's across from the Community Center, but there was a 3rd that was supposed to be commissioned and installed before the end of 2014 for a grand total of $10,000 spent on art this year. That last sculpture was supposed to happen after the Public Arts Task Force finished their work as to future applications and calls. At the last city council meeting Dara said there was no money in the budget for 2015, but I stressed that this was 'old business'. (I had also reminded Michael at least a half dozen times since May 1.) I reiterated that this remaining $3000 plus installation money at about $350 was set aside for an artist in 2014, and through the in person process, I got the council to agree to earmark that money for 2015, and said that I and others would be at the first meeting to make sure it wasn't forgotten.

What I also found out standing at the podium was that if I hadn't spoken up, that money would have sunset on Jan. 1 and been absorbed into the general reserve fund and could be spent on anything else in 2015, thus robbing an artist of an existing opportunity and some small city sanctioned livelihood in our home town. Michael Varnum was nowhere to be found, in person or informative posting or counciling about the potential of this loss, and once contacted, feigned ignorance of the process and this negative potential impact on the arts and artists. Through another source, I also gleaned that a sculpture HAD been picked and was to be commissioned in August, but Michael never followed through and hoped no one would notice till it fell off the cliff Jan.
1. Michael would not divulge the selected artist, and my colleagues also stated that it was a requirement that any applying artist needed to be at the MANDATORY onsite walk through of installation sites, or was not qualified for this commission. Maybe that is a reason for his secrecy as to the noncommissioned sculpture.

When questions I submitted to Sandy Ferrel at KHEN were put to Dara last Friday, I was again shocked by a minute offhand statement that there had been $10,000 in the 2015 budget for sculptures, but oh well, that had to be cut to balance the whole! When I further asked by email, I was corrected... there wasn't $10,000 potential, but $25,000!!! This was under consideration at a work session in September and was instantly red lined, with no protestation from Michael Varnum! Or any artists, because we were never told about the potential, and thus were not aware of the need or opportunity to petition city government for 3 months to try to keep the public arts aspect of Salida alive.

These two aspects would be enough to send a 'home town first' sensitive artist over the edge... but it comes in threes. My Councilman Mike Bowers asked Dara about the four new giant red hearts around town, and how much they cost. I wondered this too, and followed up this week and got the gut wrenching answer that no artists were contacted, no calls for these were put out, and they just appeared... after staff paid $10,160 to a manufacturer in Oregon. Unbelievable, but still shocking standard of the administrative industry.

When the arts and the artists are treated this way, the idea of 'we're all in this together' rings hollow in the ears of those whose talents and persona are the actual basis of staff's weekly check, which they seem to forget. I and others know we have a WKRP staff situation so much of the time, and some things can be forgiven, but deliberate non-communication, misinformation, or non-dedication to informative cooperative city/arts business is stunningly insulting and gives the word 'community' from staff's mouth, a bad taste in ours. I would ask that staff act respectfully from now on, but that affirmation has worn thread bare over the last 2 1/2 years.

Merry Christmas to our colleagues in art, our town, and our friends! To you the bureaucrats, administrators, and harrumphing parts of the Council... We and others will take your lump of coal, show it to your face, and make a diamond of it for ourselves, our town, and those who respect the arts. With or without your help, OUR art and efforts are not empty, and will continue on no matter what.

Jimmy Descant, artist, Salida
Christopher 'Shark' Lambdin, artist, Salida
Curtis Killorn, artist, Salida
Shelby Cox, artist, Salida


  • I look forward to hearing from the City on this matter.

  • A sad state of Affairs for a Medieval Metals Artist like myself.... As I had an event I was looking to have the city support/co-sponsor.... Something (Helpful and EFFECTIVE)...??....
    Oh well. Every day is different... Hope to be part of the solution.

  • Well put, Jimmy, et al. I also look forward to the response of our elected city government.

  • A complete and public record of everything discussed in Jimmy's post seems called for. I am appalled that this kind of controversy exists, that all voices are not out there on record. How can we know....anything? My trust is challenged.

    Mel Strawn, member of the Art Task Force; 26 year Salida community member; Professor Emeritus, University of Denver; practicing artist and educator.

  • Thank you Mel for your comments and your work to get that document produced for the good of the arts, the city, and the future. The actions during and after are insulting to say tbe least. Please let all parties know the task force's opinion on these matters. Thanks, Jimmy

  • Perhaps the city shouldn't be in the public arts business. If it were possible for merchants to handle it, they would. I thought is was fair for some city entity to pay for a mural on the bowling alley, but then I got pledges from other merchants on the highway as well as private citizens. The city shouldn't worry so much about controlling content. The merchants want to attract business, not repel it; they are sure to put up outstanding items that are appropriate.

  • Here's the old Citizen page where commentary is now disabled... so go here: http://salidacitizen.com/wp/?p=3823559 , view and analyze the comments and return HERE to further the commentary. Thanks, Jimmy

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