Putting The “Public” In Public Art

Last night I attended my first City Council meeting.

Well, I sure can pick ’em.

My intent in attending was to see things first hand, and to learn a bit more about the process and the players in our city government.

People talk about “the government” does this and “the government” does that. I recently realized that as long as I subscribe to that paradigm, without considering the individuals who are participating in those actions – the folks who commit time and energy to the structure we sometimes take for granted – that I’m limiting my views on the issues, and am therefore limiting myself. So off to City Hall I went.

As part of my introduction to this arena, someone welcomed me to “the sausage factory.” I had to look that one up. I’ll share it with you, in case you’re as confused as I was:

“There are two things you don’t want to see being made—sausage and legislation.” Attributed to Otto von Bismark (1815-1898), Chancellor of Germany

I’ll take Otto’s word for it on the sausage, but I rather enjoyed last night’s Council meeting.

Of course, perhaps the crowd of Public Art supporters and their passionate statements made it more entertaining than the meetings usually are.

Many citizens addressed the council, sharing their experience and background in Scottsdale’s award-winning Public Art arena, as well as their opinions, wishes, and requests for action from the council.

If you couldn’t attend in person, didn’t watch the meeting streaming live online or on CityCable11, and you haven’t yet had a chance to view the recording provided on the City of Scottsdale web site, I’ve posted some highlights below.

The first person to the podium was Bill Banchs, CEO of the Scottsdale Cultural Council, He assured us that the SCC’s commitment to Scottsdale’s Public Art Program is equal to their commitment to the other entities they manage, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Center for the Performing Arts.

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Former Councilperson Betty Drake provided a summary of events related to the Cultural Council, which helped newbies like myself understand the “strife” terminology used on last night’s Meeting Agenda.

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Artist David Therrian missed the opening of the meeting – he had just arrived in town, reporting that he drove from Los Angeles in order to address the Council. Therrian was direct in his opinion of Banchs.

From what I understand, he [Banchs] is attempting to destroy the [Public Art] program. He says he likes it. What he seems to like the most is the budget that it brings.

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Bob Frost, retired City middle manager who is currently serving as Scottsdale’s Poet Laureate, opened his comments with the question,

“Why did I stick my nose under this tent?”

And eloquently went on to tell us in a sincere and entertaining manner why he did just that. Frost outlined three options that he sees are currently on the table to work through the current strife, acknowledging that that’s what any option will require: work.

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The last commenter of the evening was our very own John Washington. In his usual direct manner, John pointed out that he brought these same concerns to the Council eighteen months ago, at which time his concerns were brushed aside. He also inquired about the financial performance and audit issues going on at the Cultural Council, and when we might receive more information about them. Stay tuned on that one.
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I’m very glad I attended this particular Council meeting. There were several more members of the public who spoke, personalizing this issue as they listed their experience and years of volunteer service in the Public Art arena. The main theme I took from all of the speakers was their support for the staff at SPA, and the tremendous work they do.

It’s not likely that I’ll become a Council Meeting groupie, but the offer is always open: if you’re interested in visiting the sausage factory for the first time, just let me or John know and we’ll be sure to attend with you. We’ll even save you a seat!


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  1. Thanks for a great summary Michelle. I wish I could have attended but was traveling for work. I am very proud of my husband for bringing these issues to light. He has continued to voice his concerns and most of his efforts have fallen on deaf ears. I was encouraged by the speakers comments. Some said the exact same things John has been saying for the past 18 months. Let’s hope the city council listens and finally takes some action.

  2. Thanks, Keri! It was interesting to hear person after person convey things John has mentioned to me over the past few months. Was glad I invested the time.

  3. Thanks Michelle for making sense of the meeting. A lot of time, the average person walks away from City Council meetings a bit bewildered and needing some kind of translation.

    I offer my thoughts here:

    It’s official: The Bill Banchs Blackout has hit Scottsdale.
    Last night’s meeting is proof positive.

    Mayor & Robbins: You say, it’s not your job? Work it out amongst yourselves? This is not an SNL sketch. It’s your $4 million contract. And, oh by the way, it is YOUR public art collection that is at risk under the current leader of the arts council. And economic vitality in Scottsdale hinges on a few things, and the arts, public art is one of them.

    Last night the Mayor, and Councilman Robbins, said they’re not worried about this little arts problem brewing. What they meant to say was that, it hasn’t cause enough collateral damage yet. I know what you mean: I like to drive my car as long as possible without looking under the hood until parts are actually falling off and the car won’t run.

    Here’s a little lesson in Scottsdale politics: Funds for public art are swept by the SCC and then they make their budget request. City, being asleep at the wheel, doesn’t notice, and approves your funds. Or even better, maybe you’ve greased some palms and/or whined and lied a whole bunch, and the city is on board with your “borrowing” some money from the public art earmark.

    It’s called: look at the pattern over the last several years. Don’t ignore the whistle blower and the long time arts volunteers and donors who can help read between the lines of all the lies and white washing.

    And Mr. Mayor is not concerned enough yet to have his staff look into it? Even though pillars of the community have now pleaded in two public forums for city leaders to find out what’s going on? Oh he’s a bit worried, I assure you. Not only is this arts fiasco making him look bad, but it’s now cutting into his Tuesday night tv watching, and, oh yeah, maybe even his upcoming campaign.

    Q: How many city staffers does it take to listen at a city council meeting about the arts, a topic the Mayor says he’s not that worried about?

    A: 4, the general manager from economic vitality dept; the guy who is responsible for the arts contract but cant’ remember which stack of papers it’s buried in; the new million dollar girl in the economic vitality dept; and the zoning administrator (probably the only guy who knows how to interpret the arts ordinances). Make no mistake: the Mayor is worried.

    Mr. Robbins, with all do respect, when 15 people take their precious time to participate in democratic process and plead to you that something is amiss, that means something is amiss. They’re telling you it’s time to direct staff to get to the bottom of a brewing problem before it gets any worse. Those citizens spoke passionately and eloquently, and many of them are names that appear in Scottsdale’s history books. And after all their comments, you’re not exactly why this item was before you? Please, I beg of you, take notice. This is not about Councilman Bob Littlefield, though he apparently is the only one who cares enough ask some questions and do his homework.

    Mr. Mayor is worried that this might cause– what, extra work?? Oh sorry, what he said was it could cause opening the contract up, possibly revising it, and worse– having to go out for bid. Yeah, I too hate having to work hard to make sure my business is efficient, effective and produces the highest quality widgets.

    Scottsdale calls itself an arts town?!!! Not with this Mayor. It’s not too late, as a few people said, but he has to act now. One of the people who spoke last night, Bill Heckman, is the chair of the public art committee (and a member of the Board of Trustees). He spoke as though he’s leaving the BOT, didn’t he?

    Betsy Fahlman, former Scottsdale Mayor Sam Campana “the arts mayor”, Bob Frost, and more. They hit the nail on the head, or shall we say, they called the clown out: Bill Banchs is bad for the arts in Scottsdale.

    Someone did a roll call last night:
    Public art supporters: 32
    Bill Banchs Board members: 1 plus her husband, and maybe another one who cut out before the meeting started. Hmmm.

    People are going crazy over the pattern of allegations and the lack of understanding about the public art program perpetrated from within the Scottsdale Cultural Council.

    I have been a long time supporter of Scottsdale arts, but all this is creating many open ended questions about SCC leadership. Frankly, this cloud over Scottsdale arts is embarrassing and I hope the public art program does not get dragged around any further. The SCC is going to have to work hard to gain my trust and money again after the 3 ring circus ships out of town.

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