In response to an explosion of “street art” in Uptown Kingston, a neighborhood business group is calling on the city to develop a policy and a commission to better promote and regulate art in public.
The push for a city art commission grew out of a discussion at an April 4 board meeting of the Kingston Uptown Business Association. The debate resulted in a letter from the KUBA board to Mayor Shayne Gallo and the Common Council urging the city to “establish a formal policy for public art.” The policy, the letter stated, should “develop a program that contributes to and enhances community identity and pride; provide the highest quality artwork available … Encourage public participation and interaction with public spaces” and “enrich the public environment for both residents and visitors through exposure to the arts.”
The proposal comes amid a heated debate about public art in Uptown Kingston. Since 2010 the annual O-Positive festival has commissioned dozens of artists to create wheat-paste artworks to adorn walls around the neighborhood. The work, which varies quite widely in style and content, has drawn praise in some quarters and criticism in others; in particular, there have been complaints about wheat-paste posters which have been left to deteriorate long after the fall festival has ended.
More controversially, last September dozens of red goats, stenciled in spray paint, appeared on newly installed planters in the Stockade District. Two local artists, Maggie Salesman and Geddes Paulsen have been charged with felony criminal mischief for the red goat caper. (While a Facebook posting on the Red Goats of Kingston page indicated the charges had been reduced, as of Wednesday, Kingston City Court still had them listed as the original felony counts.)
The red goat has been embraced by some Uptown residents and business owners, spawning window decals, tattoos, a luminous sign above North Front Street and even a feature story in The New York Times. RUPCO Director of Community Development Guy Kempe thinks a public art policy could help clarify the line between public art and vandalism.
“The red goats have been reported on and opined upon in terms of whether it’s graffiti or art,” said Kempe. “That’s a question that has to be answered by the community and [a public art policy] might be a way to drill down to an answer.”
Supporters of a public art policy stress that the intent is not to police art, especially on private property where the First Amendment protects the display of just about anything short of obscene images. Rather, a policy and/or commission could help promote, and potentially find funding for artworks on city property. They point to a deteriorating mural at the city’s “Peace Park” on North Front Street as an example of the kind of challenge that an art commission could take on by, for example commissioning a replacement or providing refurbishment.
But Mayor Shayne Gallo said that he was not sold on the need for any city sponsored framework to oversee art, which he described as a vital sector for the city’s culture and economy.
“I don’t think we should regulate the art community at this point,” said Gallo. “I don’t want to create a chilling effect. I’d rather take it on a case by case basis.”