Sandy Arts Commission on pause until January
After a few dramatic months involving community debate over a proposed mural, the Sandy Arts Commission is on a strategic pause.
Mid-September Sandy Arts Commission Chairperson and founding member Becky Hawley and two others resigned from the commission. Hawley's resignation came after the Urban Renewal Board, consisting of the Sandy City Council, Fire Chief Phil Schneider and a representative of the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce decided to pause work on the proposed "Growing Together" mural to be painted by Hawley. The mural planning was a work in progress for most of the past year, during which Hawley and commissioners hosted public forums to ask for community input on the project.
This summer, after the forums and after the Urban Renewal Board decided to fund $11,000 of the costs of the mural, Facebook lit up with commentary on the design for the mural and source of funding.
Some speculated the funding should be used elsewhere, misunderstanding that urban renewal funds can only be used for certain projects and situations. Others disapproved of the design of the mural itself, saying it didn't represent the community of Sandy.
"We had eight to 10 public meetings before one inflammatory post caused the negativity against the mural," Hawley said. "Many of the statement (made) were erroneous. … We did everything — the building owner and I followed every step the city required and beyond to do this mural and ended up here. To reverse themselves was not the proper way to do it. If they wanted to run the city by Facebook vote, then why have a commission?"
While Hawley was the artist for the mural, she was planning to paint in a volunteer capacity; the funds acquired from the city and from community donations were to purchase supplies, including metal silhouettes included in the original design.
After the onslaught of input this summer, Hawley revised the design, ditching the silhouettes and taking a more traditional route.
When the URB voted to pause the project, Commissioners Hawley, Marcia Morrow and Sandra Jordan all resigned from the commission.
"We were generally feeling a lack of support from the city," Hawley said. "Having them renegotiate on their decision was just the final straw. Because of the fickle nature of the way this was handled, I was not willing to wait."
At the Oct. 5 City Council meeting, councilors voted to put the commission on a "strategic pause," citing the fact that the commission is down to three of its seven members — with three terms expiring in December and people notoriously less available during the winter holidays — as reason to wait until January to interview for and fill those positions.
In the meantime, Hawley has been working with building owner Brad Picking and the Wy-East Artisans Guild to make the "Growing Together" mural a private venture and collect new donations. Before she resigned, Hawley requested that previously gathered donations be returned to the donors since the vision and process of the project was changing.
Though the arts commission has only existed since 2018, Hawley has been involved in the conception of the commission for almost a decade. She was one of the community members involved in the ad hoc committee to commission the Centennial mural and the salmon fountain in Centennial Plaza. After that experience she actually suggested the arts commission to the city.
"[One] reason I suggested the arts commission is [that] I was on the committee to choose the fish fountain and the Centennial mural and thought that the process could have been better with more people on the committee with experience," Hawley explained. "I had at the time suggested an architect, some artists and people with a sense of scale and maintenance would've been helpful to make those decisions."
In the time Hawley was on the commission, she helped restore the Roger Cooke mural "Peaceful Vistas" on the ACE Hardware building and the Robert Thomas mural depicting early logging in the area, featured on the front wall of Sandy City Hall; helped start a draft of an arts master plan, including a mural policy; and more.
While she won't be on the commission any longer, Hawley noted ways the commission could be more successful in the future, and she has high hopes for the now privately funded "Growing Together" mural.
"The commission — to be effective — needs more staff time and commissioners who are willing to put in time," Hawley said. Several commissioners resigned before Hawley: Morrow and Jordan over the past two years because of lack of time to dedicate. And while Hawley had no negative things to say about arts commission staff liaison Tyler Deems, she said she hoped the city might dedicate more time to the commission in the future.
"I liked working with Tyler very much, but his main job is as finance officer for the city, so he had insufficient time to devote to the arts commission," Hawley said.
"More staff time would always be helpful," Deems said. "There definitely are competing interests for my time."
Deems added that regardless of the "strategic pause," (the council) "doesn't want to make this a long pause."
"They do have an interest in maintaining this commission," Deems said. "They recognize some things have happened in recent months and we're just trying to determine the best path forward."
Deems is hoping that after the council's goal-setting meeting in January — including input from a few new councilors who weren't around for this summer's discussions — the commission can receive more information and guidance on what the council would like to see going forward.
"It's clear more staff time was needed to help move their initiatives forward," Deems said. "A goal for myself and council is to make the commission successful. I think (Hawley) made a very good point that the commission was developed and then didn't get (enough) direction. I think the biggest improvement staff can make going forward is getting more clear direction from council for the commission."
"It's a difficult thing to swallow (these resignations and pause)," said Councilor Carl Exner. "I feel bad for the commission."
Exner acted as city council liaison to the arts commission, helping communicate between the council and the commission. He said he is "sad" about how things have turned out for the commission and hopes it is more successful in the future.
About the social media backlash about the "Growing Together" mural and resulting project pause, Exner said: "Here we have a political response to something that's really supposed to be of benefit to the city. (The mural) turned out to be really emotional and controversial. The trouble I saw was misunderstandings and mistruths about the mural. I felt the council did a fairly good job of responding to those. It became pretty obvious, though, that the emotions around it weren't going away. I think it's not just the election year; it's the coronavirus, the masks … there's so much happening that we haven't experienced before and everyone is on edge. I'm trying really hard to talk to people about being calmer. The arts commission was never trying to sneak something by people. Everybody is still trying to find their path on this. I feel like Becky tried so hard to do the right thing."
He added that initially the arts commission was meant as a vehicle to organize planning around public art in Sandy to garner public input and "move forward."
Moving forward from here, Exner said the council will be looking for applicants for the arts commission to be residents of Sandy.
"We never selected anyone we didn't feel like had a lot of commitment," Exner explained. "You can't always predict or modify the input you get from the public, and you never want to stop public input. The city should be an advocate of art. It's not only a social thing, but an economic thing. The city has more to offer than gas, coffee and Joe's Donuts. We're going to make a very strong push to get people within the city, but we also want people looking to do it for the good of the community. I really hope people come out to get involved."
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