Amherst bylaw authorizes town to commission visual artists to create works for public buildings and spaces

Emilee Geist

Amherst Town Council Monday unanimously approved a new bylaw that authorizes the municipality to commission visual artists to create works that would be displayed inside public buildings and outside spaces. The idea had been on the drawing board for years. Its fruition is good news for artists and society, the […]

Amherst Town Council Monday unanimously approved a new bylaw that authorizes the municipality to commission visual artists to create works that would be displayed inside public buildings and outside spaces.

The idea had been on the drawing board for years.

Its fruition is good news for artists and society, the chair of the town’s Public Art Commission, William Kaizen said in an email statement on Wednesday.

He said besides Amherst, the city of Cambridge is the only other community in the state with such a municipal bylaw to fund artwork.

“Such art may include, but shall not be limited to, paintings, sculpture, engravings, carvings, frescoes, stained glass, mobiles, murals, collages, mosaics, bas-reliefs, tapestries, photographs, drawings, and landscape items, including the artistic placement of natural materials or manmade fountains or other functional art objects,” the bylaw says.

The 12-0 Amherst Town Council vote means construction projects costing at least $1 million would include 0.5% to fund the artwork.

For a $10 million project, that would be $50,000.

“I am very pleased that Amherst’s Town Council has finally–unanimously–approved the Percent for Art bylaw. When I moved to Amherst in 2016, I was elected a Town Meeting rep. The Percent for Art bylaw was one of the pieces of legislation I that was most excited about. I joined the Public Art Commission expressly to work on its implementation,” Kaizen said.

“I made it my mission to help re-work the bylaw. . . and get it passed. After several years of work by members of the Public Art Commission and an ad hoc committee of the Town Council, it finally has, although unfortunately the provision for performing arts had to be scrapped,” he said.

“One of the reasons my family moved to Amherst was because of the excellent public school system. The bylaw will apply to the proposed new elementary school,” he said.

The new bylaw states: “The public artwork shall be located at, within or upon the site of the building, facility or space associated with the construction project, so long as the public artwork is accessible to the public.”

“Funds appropriated for this purpose may be used for design services of artists, for the selection, acquisition, purchase, commissioning, installation and display of public art, and other incidental and related costs,” the bylaw says.

It says the town becomes owner of the artwork, once completed and installed.

Language in the bylaw says that should artwork be removed and sold, the town receives those proceeds.

However, whether to remove and sell the public artwork – also called deaccessioning – is the purview of the town’s Public Art Commission in consultation with town manager.

“Any decision concerning deaccessioning shall be made by the Public Art Commission in consultation with the Town Manager. Any funds generated from such deaccession shall be treated as General Fund revenue,” the bylaw says.

The PAC is charged with administering the commissioning of artists under the town manager’s supervision.

The PAC responsibilities included: “establishing general guidelines for the selection of artists and public artworks; meetings with relevant Town departments in coordination with the Town Manager, nonprofit organizations, and members of the public; and public hearings.”

Kaizen said: “Public works of visual art enliven social spaces, attract visitors and make towns more desirable places to live. . . . While the creative economy is often cited as an economic engine, public support nurtures it and helps it grow.”

Prior to voting on the art bylaw on Sept. 21, Council President Lynn Griesemer said: “We wanted to make sure, at this point, we are not going to go ahead and try to put in special language that accommodates the Jones Library.”

“We will leave that open for a possible future amendment to the bylaw, but not at this time,” she said.

The Percent for Art Bylaw is now part of Amherst General Bylaws.

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