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City Council: Pondering public art

The City Council heard an earful about art and creativity at its meeting Tuesday night and may consider implementing a public arts program.

Arts Wisconsin Executive Director Anne Katz advocates all over the state. She educates different groups about how the arts industry can positively affect economics, education and quality of life.

Katz said the industry shows quantifiable results through analysis of Dunn & Bradstreet data. It shows Wisconsinites shell out $418 million each year taking part in or attending arts events.

She mentioned a newly published book about how to make the arts a local, economic resource. It can attract tourism and new residents, create jobs and promote a community as well as create an identity, a distinct sense of place.

Council Member Joleen Larson asked Katz to come and explain the concept of how public art can fit into a community. Discussion began after local artist Bonnie Rubinstein proposed doing a grant-funded community piece for the new City Hall.

Katz said a city can follow any number of good models. She recommended some basic steps if the city is interested in exploring options: Form partnerships, create an advisory committee, define mission/purpose/vision/audience, customize a model to fit River Falls' best interests and seize funding opportunities.

Katz emphasized that the entire process must be community oriented, public, transparent, fair, equitable and local.

Council Member Mike Woolsey asked about a fiscal receiver, which would be needed to get grants and manage funds. Could the city be one? Katz says yes.

Mayor Don Richards asked if the Hudson Hospital had followed one of the models to implement art as a part of its design. Katz says yes, coordinating closely with The Phipps Center for the Arts, it did.

Larson said, "This is a good time and opportunity to pursue a public arts agenda," mentioning she thinks public space (for art) pertains not only to the new City Hall and other buildings, but also parks, open spaces, riverfronts. "I think there needs to be a whole process set up."

Katz agreed saying, "Thinking about creativity as a resource isn't a one-time thing. It's a process."

Her presentation required no council action, but Larson asked if the council thinks River Falls should pursue the idea. No member voiced objections.

Wasson Lane trail vote

Council Member Tom Caflisch asked why the city was paying an outside firm $16,000 (SEH) to design the Wasson Lane trail extension to Cascade Avenue.

"This seems to be a very minor project...Why do we need to hire somebody to do that?" Caflisch asked.

City Engineer Reid Wronski explained that SEH did about 60 hours of the groundwork during the recent bridge project and that if city staff did the design, it would delay the Sterling Ponds trail job.

"This is a priority project," Wronski said about the Wasson Lane trail.

The council voted 4-2 to let SEH do the work, which will finish in the spring.