Public Arts Commission puts Tenney, sign project on hold
Elizabeth Tenney’s Mammoth Gateway Community Project met with what architect, Bruce Woodward, described as “the worst possible outcome” on Thursday, when the Public Arts Commission took no action and tabled the agenda item, in effect sending it to a sort of legal purgatory.
Tenney went before the Commission asking for a reconsideration of a January 2011 funding request, which was denied two months later. Since that time, however, certain aspects of both the project and the merits of the funding request have changed.
According to staff’s report, Tenney’s project, originally intended as a two-sided single sign for the side of Hwy 203 leaving Mammoth Lakes, has since “evolved” to two signs, one each on both the north and south side (one entrance, one exit) and has undergone some design changes. As a result, the cost has doubled to $548,500; Tenney’s request from the Commission was for $250,000.
Perhaps the biggest change, though, involves how the sign and its artistic component meet the Town’s Public Arts standards. As she described in her presentation, Tenney based her renewed request on a document adopted in June 2011, “TOML Public Art Plan: Policies and Criteria,” and outlined how, if it didn’t qualify before, the project does now conform to the new guidelines as set forth in the document.
In addition to citing the Town’s 2007 General Plan, which calls a gateway a “high priority action item,” her overview detailed how artist Larry Walker’s Gateway vision meets the six goals and design criteria, as set forth in the Public Art Plan: 1.) it’s a community benefit visually and economically, 2.) it’s representative of the community’s connection to the mountains (Walker’s artwork was inspired by Crystal Crag), 3.) it’s unique 4.) it’s located in the most public of places, in this case the entrance and exit to town 5.) it’s designed to last a century or more and 6.) the design, materials and installation will be of the highest quality.
“The goal … is to help kickstart the local economy,” Tenney said. “We need to announce that we’re open for business, we’re moving forward, that we’re not just surviving, we’re thriving.” Tenney called the Gateway project “an opportunity to leverage a partnership that doesn’t happen very often.”
The Gateway project, as she pointed out, has a broad mix of government and private sector involvement. In addition to private stakeholders who have contributed more than $50,000 in cash and pledges, the project has backing from U.S. Forest Service, Mammoth Community Water District (which is sponsoring the pocket park aspect), the Town of Mammoth Lakes and Mono County. The Administrative Office of the Courts has agreed to supply irrigation on its side of the Gateway, and developer Chuck Lande’s Chadmar Group and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area have both pledged in-kind support and materials.
Walker, a 40-year local who was raised as an artist, said the sign’s art comes “from the heart, from the peaks … from our history.” The Gateway, he said, belongs here. “It’s like it came up from out of the ground, not just a sign we threw up.”
As soon as her presentation stopped, however, the music stopped and Tenney found herself without a chair to sit in, as the Commission decided it “didn’t want to shortchange Ms. Tenney on time” and had “several questions” to ask of Tenney, Walker and Woodward to pursue the item at length. The Commission said it had a long afternoon of prioritizing other Public Arts projects and recommending dollar amounts out of its remaining Unencumbered Balance of $233,000. Those include trout sculptures at the Mammoth-Yosemite Airport, kinetic art at Mammoth Creek Park and public art at the Waterford Bridge multi-use path.
According to the staff report, the Commission already has an Encumbered Expense of $138,000 dedicated to the Janice Kabala-designed Gateway Entry Marker, which isn’t actually to be located anywhere near the town entrance. After the Forest Service rejected the marker, which the staff report redefined as being “impractical,” consensus of the Commission was that it would be located along Meridian Boulevard, adjacent to Trails End Park, just east of the Volcom Brothers Skatepark, which staff called “an important secondary gateway to the town.”
Tenney, along with Walker, Woodward and supporter Jim Smith of MMSA, were taken aback at the Commission’s decision to table the project and NOT, according to Chair Nick Holst, include it for prioritization along with the other projects. Holst said it will be brought back at the next Commission meeting, whether there’s any money to recommend for it or not at that point.