The city of Aspen’s creation of a public arts program will be shaped by a team of consultants charged with designing both a plan and community-engagement process.
On March 14, the Aspen City Council approved a contract between the city and consultants to begin work on the project, which came in response to residents’ pleas in the fall for a public arts program. The program likely would consist of city-owned art displays installed around town for community members and visitors to see.
“We are very excited about launching a community engagement effort to develop a public art plan,” Sarah Roy, director of the Red Brick Center for the Arts, said via email on Friday.
“We have heard from community members that they would like to see more art in our public spaces. The city agrees that public art can play a powerful role for community expression and create opportunities for people to connect with others and offer new experiences through the arts.”
Now that consultants have been hired, Roy said work on the project can begin almost immediately. The consultants, ThereSquared LLC and Stilwell Cultural Consulting LLC, will conduct research, look at the city’s current art collection of about 27 pieces and where they are located, and make recommendations on their placement.
Roy said it was important to hire consultants with knowledge on how to create a plan that’s reflective of an inclusive vision and outlines the nuts and bolts such as best practices for artwork selection, implementation and maintenance. She added that the consultants selected bring extensive experience in community engagement, visioning and public art planning.
The city plans to launch a page on aspencommunityvoice.com with more details on how people can get involved and participate in shaping a public art plan, Roy said.
“Aspen is in a unique position in that we are creating something new,” she said. “This is a chance to think aspirational, celebrate the amazing arts and culture here in our community and create something that builds community pride.”
Roy said she expects the community development phase to begin in June and run through October, and the city plans to begin creating the plan in September until December or possibly January.
Council members said last week the proposed timeline sounded much longer than they envisioned. Councilman Skippy Mesirow added he was unsure that the process of working with consultants would bring the end result the community was looking for.
“I think we talk about getting people involved in the arts, and we’ve had people who have wanted to do the work for a number of years, and now we’re hiring consultants for almost $100,000 … but does that really bring people into the process?” he said. “People were coming to us saying, ‘We want to own this,’ and we said, ‘Well, just stay there and we’ll hire some consultants.’ That’s how I see it.”
Councilwoman Rachel Richards said she saw things differently than Mesirow and thought the process added equality to the project because the city had only heard from a small group of people before doing any engagement.
“There was some expressed, ‘We want to do this with the arts, so this is the outcome’ — already a predetermined outcome, as opposed to, what does the broader community think and what do people think who are not in that self-selected group?” Richards said.
Ultimately, council members were supportive of the contracts and said they were looking forward to seeing the project move on to the next phase. The city plans to have more details on the public engagement process and the Aspen Community Voice webpage launched in the coming weeks.
By: Megan Webber I Aspen Daily News I March 2023