Al Petersen of St. Helens argues the public had ample time to weigh in on Gateway Sculpture projects, and excuses for not doing so and complaining afterward demean participating volunteers

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - The Salmon Tree Cycle sculpture on Highway 30 has drawn heavy criticism for its placement and appearance. Al Petersen of St. Helens says criticism from those who don't participate in the selection process unfairly demeans those who do. On Aug. 30 the St Helens Arts and Cultural Commission (ACC) installed its latest public art project on the Highway 30 McNulty Creek Bridge. After that installation, Facebook users burst out with numerous comments on the project, people questioned the appropriateness of the artwork, its aesthetic qualities, the approval process, the cost, and on and on.

On Sept. 17, The Spotlight published on its website and Facebook page an erudite opinion piece (see "Public art should bind communities, not divide them") about that latest installation. That opinion piece stated that the Arts Commission had "learned little from public reaction to the first phase of the Gateway Sculpture" and that the ACC should do more public outreach and receive more public comments and input on the projects it undertakes.

Even before the above-mentioned and learned opinion piece was published the Arts Commission took it upon itself to reach out and schedule a meeting at the St Helens Public Library.

The Arts Commission expected a large turnout. Notice was published, as required, in the local print media, and on Facebook and other social media (not required). Again, the ACC received many comments and Arts Commissioners responded to comments and urged St Helens' citizens to attend the meeting and participate.

That meeting occurred Sep.t 26 at the St Helens Public Library.

Did crowds descend on the Arts Commission's meeting?

Did the local media attend?

Did the learned editor of the Spotlight, that drafted such an intellectual opinion piece, attend the meeting?


Two people attended.

This is a mere example of the current state of affairs that our local volunteer commissions and our elected officials face. Empty rooms and apathy, and then, after the fact, an uninformed public expressing outrage that they "never heard about that" or "how could that happen" or "why is my tax money being spent on that?" Followed by more empty rooms.

No project, private or public, drops out of the sky. All are required to go through many reviews and often public hearings. Even when public officials attempt to get more public input, as is the case with the arts commission, their efforts are ignored.

Our system is based on participation. Volunteers who have their own families and jobs spend their time taking part. Those vocal, outraged, after-the-fact voices, when asked to get involved, give many excuses: they need to keep their jobs, they have family obligations, they don't have enough time, excuse after excuse after excuse.

FYI everyone — your after-the-fact complaining is belittling to those who do take their time to volunteer. If you want a real voice, get informed and get involved.

(Just as a side note, Facebook is not a public forum. Rather, it is a private forum owned by corporate America that profits from users viewing its pages and its corporate advertising. A Facebook discussion helps no one other than corporate America. Think about it.)

[Editor's note: Al Petersen is the chair of the St. Helens Planning Commission. His wife, Kannikar, is the Arts and Cultural Commission's chair and project lead for the Gateway Sculpture Project. Al Petersen's business, AKAAN architecture and design, contributed to the sculpture project. The Spotlight reported on major milestones of both phases of the Gateway Sculpture Project, including planning, fundraising efforts, installation and dedication.]

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