On Oct 13, organizers from CSU and supporting businesses came before the Columbus City Council meeting to seek approval for an Advocacy thru Arts mural project.
The proposed mural would be located on the wall between 18th St and 5th Avenue and would carry the message of “hope, healing, and community,” according to CSU Professor of Art Hannah Israel.
If approved, the Department of Art selection committee would choose an artist, whose concept would then be presented to the chair for approval. It would then go on to be approved by the Dean of the College of the Arts, the Provost, and then President Markwood. This would all take place before presenting the art to the City Council for final approval.
CSU would be financially responsible for all aspects of the project, along with putting together a traffic plan of the sidewalk area and right of way, securing any applicable permits and/or waivers, all maintenance of the wall during the contract period, and coordination with adjoining property owners and businesses.
Israel spoke before the Council and offered to answer any questions the council members might have. Chris Whittey, Chair of the Department of Art, was also in attendance, along with CSU student Khayla Shephard and organizers from Kidpreneurs and Dragonfly Trail.
“This is a huge part of a grant we are writing for the Knight Foundation, and we can’t go forward without the approval of the city,” Israel told the Council.
Council members said that they had received numerous emails with respect to the project, all of them in opposition. City Manager Isaiah Hugley said that he was not aware of any of these emails prior to the meeting. Mayor “Skip” Henderson said that those he had heard from were misinformed about the project and its message.
“We have received multiple emails asking to, basically, disapprove this request,” said Council member Toyia Tucker. “My main question is, what is your relationship with the organization Black Lives Matter?”
Israel explained that they had no affiliation with the organization Black Lives Matter, and that they were inspired by murals being put up all around the nation, some of which containing the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’. They pointed out that the slogan was not synonymous with the organization. However, the phrase is not to be included in the project.
“We are focusing on the idea of racial justice and social justice, but the theme, really, that fits Columbus is the idea of hope, healing, and community,” Israel replied. “That is what we’re all about. I don’t know if we’re ever going to avoid controversies when we put something in a public domain.”
However, Council members continued to express concern about the project and potential backlash from the community.
“We have tried very diligently […] to make sure that whatever we put on public property is not controversial,” said Councilor Judy Thomas. “I just am real nervous about this [and] putting this on public property.”
Mayor Pro Tem R. Gary Allen asked if the mural could be attached to the wall in some way, rather than painting directly onto it. “And then it’s not permanent, except for the attachment portion,” Mayor Pro Tem Allen said. “You can change the art out a little easier, I think, once we decide how we’re going to attach it to the wall.”
Councilor Charmaine Crabb echoed this sentiment and cited her involvement in real estate and property management, although she agreed that art could be an opportunity to create unity.
Councilor Bruce Huff expressed interest in the project and requested that ‘three or so’ Councilors be assigned to the committee. “I say thank you,” Councilor Huff said to the organizers.
After further discussion and notes from the city council, they moved to delay the vote for two weeks. In the interim, the City Attorney will be working to develop a policy on public art and the City Manager will have the opportunity to incorporate the council’s notes into the memorandum of understanding between CSU and the city. The organizers were encouraged to bring samples of what the mural could potentially look like to show the councilors.
“As a student here, I think that this process is very important for my peers to see that we have support from positions of leadership and from the community,” said Shephard. “I think this mural is important and I think having this process gone about […] will really empower my peers to see that our voices aren’t lost within legislation systems.”