OLYMPIA - The Olympia City Council voted Tuesday night to buy a piece of art for the interior of the new City Hall to replace a controversial one that, though initially recommended, it elected not to buy.
The council voted 6-1 to pay $4,500 for “Essence of Olympia” by Shelley Carr, two copper sheets on which multiple iconic photos and drawings of Olympia are etched.
Councilwoman Karen Rogers cast the lone “no” vote, saying it sent “the wrong signal” for the council to spend money on art at a time when residents are losing their jobs.
“I don’t think it’s going to sit well with very many people,” she said.
Councilwoman Rhenda Strub defended the expenditure, saying it will ensure at least one artist gets paid.
“Think of it as a jobs program and then maybe you can vote for it,” she said.
Olympia requires that 1 percent of money spent on major public projects be set aside for art.
The council approved three other artworks for the interior of the new City Hall, at 615 Fourth Ave. E., this month. That brings the total purchase for building art to $24,505.
“Essence of Olympia” was bought instead of an earlier recommendation from the city’s Arts Commission, “Street Corner Passing” by Lela DePaolo.
Council members voiced concerns last month that the collage included pictures of people taken at one of the city’s twice-annual Arts Walk events. They were concerned about whether the people pictured gave permission to become part of a work of public art.
Stephanie Johnson, the city’s arts and events manager, said at the time that the city did not explore that issue because the photos were taken in a public event.
But after further legal research, Johnson told the council Jan. 4 that permission from the subjects is needed if the photos are used for a commercial benefit, according to a video of the meeting.
“Essence of Olympia” uses nonhuman subjects in its photos and drawings.
“We have a clean bill of health from the city attorney’s office for this particular piece,” Johnson told the council Tuesday.
The flap over the interior art comes after public uproar over exterior art the Arts Commission proposed in 2009. The citizens advisory group suggested spending $180,000 for bronze “thought bubbles,” but the city was deluged with e-mail calling the art ugly or inappropriate.
The council voted down the plan for the “bubbles” and put off buying exterior art until after the building is finished, which is expected March 26.
The city revamped its art-selection process after the 2009 controversy, holding a public meeting to get input on proposed artwork earlier. As before, a jury chooses the work that is forwarded to the City Council for final approval.
But some council members have questioned whether the changes went far enough.
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 firstname.lastname@example.org