Merced’s first-ever Arts and Culture Advisory Commission reached its first major milestone during a special meeting at City Hall.
While news from the meeting last Thursday is not earth-shattering, it does indicate the advisory body on public art projects is kicking into gear at the right time — just before budget talks, and at a time when leaders are stepping up calls for citywide beautification and the improvement of the downtown scene.
In their first motion, commissioners unanimously agreed to send a recommendation to the Merced City Council for the acceptance of a $3,000 grant from Pacific Gas and Electric to shore up and protect two existing public art projects.
The money would help artists transform the namesake lettering on the Bob Hart Square planter on Main Street so that it’s incorporated with its surrounding Poppies Galore mosaic. The plan is to add brilliant color to the gray letters with the use of concrete stain. Funds would also go to the cleaning and preservation of the mural and tile work located inside and around the G Street Underpass.
In these decisions, the panel relied on the expertise of city staff, and commissioner Monika Modest, the artist who constructed the Poppies Galore mosaic from community glazed tiles. Modest spoke of her concerns regarding the use of acrylic paint as an alternative in the lettering project, saying that it can be easily scraped away and is susceptible to weathering. Modest assured her colleagues that methods could be put in place to control the use of stain.
Regarding the G Street Underpass, commission members discussed how time and nature have taken a toll on the surrounding artwork. Over the course of time, birds have begun to roost above the murals and hard water has settled on the murals, causing streaks across the surface. In addition, some of the tile work along the pedestrian paths of the underpass has been chipped away by rocks and debris from nearby traffic.
Commissioners agreed that cleaning materials were needed to bring the luster back to the murals and tilework. They also noted that bird mitigation measures — such as protective netting — would need to be purchased. Once restored, commissioners acknowledged the importance of following up their work funded by the grant from PG&E with mitigation and preservation measures to ensure the continued resilience of the public artworks.
Assistant City Manager Stephanie Dietz estimated costs for the staining of Bob Hart Square’s lettering to be $1,500, leaving the other half of the grant to be used for the G Street Underpass. The City Council is expected to vote on the funds at the May 6 meeting.
Dietz also informed commissioners that Mayor Mike Murphy and City Manager Steve Carrigan will be traveling to Washington, D.C. on the annual One Voice trip. The two top leaders are planning to speak with officials at the National Endowment for the Arts regarding Merced and its new push to make public art a priority. Commissioners were asked to propose new projects that could be used as examples in those discussions.
Commissioners and ex-officio members highlighted the need for more street murals, specifically to improve the Arbor Walk Way off Main Street, and improvements along M Street. The panel favored imagery related to local veterans in the area, depictions of the numerous cultures in town, and historical aspects that distinguish Merced from other surrounding communities.
Commissioners were also briefed about a project to index and register all the public works of art located throughout the city. Currently underway, the project is being spearheaded by the teams of volunteers working with the commission. They expect to create a catalog of the artworks — available online — with registration numbers and photos.
Speaking of their vision for Downtown Merced, commissioners shared thoughts of developing a personality for the Main Street area — something Merced could be known for. Specific ideas mentioned included mixing together art and entertainment events. One idea was to have a Friday night community chess activity, where families could interact by playing the classic game but with handmade, human-sized, artistic chess pieces on a giant game board that would fill Bob Hart Square.
The Arts and Culture Advisory Commission was created by the city council in July of 2018 and came together for the first time earlier this year.
During Thursday’s meeting, the commissioners unanimously voted to have their newly established mission defined as advising: “the City Council on how to encourage and promote arts programs and events that engage community members and local businesses; acknowledge the role that arts and culture contribute to the quality of life, and the vitality, innovation, and inclusion of the community; and preserve the community’s artistic works and cultural identities.”
Major goals for the commissioners include new street festivals, outreach to local schools, and finding new funding opportunities to accomplish their mission, capital improvement projects such as the creation of new welcome signs for the City of Merced, and future planning activities including the creation of an Arts District.