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Mural requests raise questions
about need for public art policy

Madison Chautauqua to help
create a Bicentennial mural

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(September 2008) – Recent requests brought before the Madison Historic District Board of Review regarding building murals has prompted a debate about whether the city of Madison needs a public art policy.
The issue first arose at the board’s July meeting when two separate requests for public murals were presented. Board members told the applicants that there is no policy governing public art in the community. A discussion ensued among board members about whether they need one to help guide them if faced with future problems.
The board governs the city’s Historic District ordinance, which aims to protect the oldest and most historic part of the city of Madison. Mural requests in the past have been directed to the board because of its responsibility in governing the ordinance, which guides owners of historic structures on issues concerning the exteriors of their buildings.
“More murals are coming into play. The city should adopt some type of public art policy to help govern any issues that could arise,” said Rich Murray, a board member who is also the president of the local preservationist organization Cornerstone Society. “When something is in place, its appearance affects the downtown area.”
He suggested a possible arts advisory commission set in place by the city for future public art proposals. “Any type of public art policy would have to be implemented by the city,” he said. “There is a wealth of artists in this community that could give valuable insight into such a policy or serve on a committee for it.”
Madison Chautauqua Festival of Arts Coordinator Georgie Kelly was one of the people who requested permission to put up a mural in downtown Madison. The Madison Chautauqua committee wants to give the city a Bicentennial mural to be put in place by summer 2009, when the city marks the anniversary of its founding.
Kelly said there will be a competition that should begin in November in which area artists submit designs that have a theme of “historic Madison.” A winning submission will be chosen by a committee of artists led by Hanover, Ind.’s Bill Borden, a well-known and well-respected artist.
Once the design has been selected, a group of 10 artists will be selected to produce sections of that design, using the medium they are comfortable with, to create the whole art piece. “We are hoping for a ‘quilt’ affect that will be both unique and interesting,” said Kelly.
Each piece will then be digitally photographed, enlarged and put on vinyl. The entire mural will be hung in place in a dedication ceremony in June 2009 and will stay in place for one year. “We will then revisit whether the mural should stay up or possibly be moved,” said Kelly. The actual site for the Bicentennial mural has not yet been determined, but there are several buildings being considered.
“We went before the board of review as a courtesy and for their support; we knew the board does not have guidelines for public art,” said Kelly. She believes a public art policy would be appropriate because of the culture of our community.
“We are a historic town that is also family-oriented. Some types of art would be found offensive in our tight community,” she said. “A public art policy would guide artists as to what would work for our community members.”
Murray echoed that sentiment. “Art is subjective,” he said. “What one thinks is attractive, others detest. An art policy would hopefully resolve any of those types of conflicts before they became a public issue.”
Tiffany Black, a recent Hanover College graduate and artist, has created a design proposal for a mural that will be applied to the exterior wall of Shipley’s Tavern, 322 W. Main St., once adequate funding has been raised. She plans to use a steamboat and historic river scene in her mural because they play a prominent role in Madison’s history. Other historic landmarks in Madison will surround the river scene.
She believes a public art policy would benefit area artists. “When I decided to do this, I wasn’t sure how to begin or who to even talk to,” she said. “A public art policy would hopefully offer guidelines with steps on how to proceed with a project. It would also alleviate any problems or potential conflicts before they arise.”
Shipley’s building owner Cris Sauer, however, had a different view. When he sought approval for the mural, he was told by the city’s zoning officials that he needed to present his proposal before the Historic District Board of Review. “I think I should be able to decide what I put on my own building,” he said. “After all, I am the one who pays for the upkeep, taxes and all other financial aspects of my building.”
Black is still seeking sponsors for the mural on Shipley’s Tavern. Sponsors will have their names written into the mural.

• For more information about the Shipley’s Tavern mural, contact Tiffany Black at (317) 796-8793. Artists interested in the Madison Chautauqua Bicentennial Mural may contact Georgie Kelly at (812) 265-6100.

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