A normally routine development plan approval turned into a protracted debate about the aesthetics of public artwork at the Oro Valley Town Council last week.
The council voted Wednesday, Oct. 6, to overrule the Art Review Commission's Sept. 7 denial of a conceptual plan for public art displays at a proposed assisted living community near Lambert and Pusch View lanes.
The split vote saw council members Joe Hornat and Bill Garner siding with two members of the art commission who spoke against the proposed public art display. Developers of the assisted living facility had requested the council give them a hearing after the art commission's denial.
Commercial development in the town must dedicate at least 1 percent of its budget toward publicly accessible art displays on the property.
"To be candid, this is nuts," Hornat said prior to casting his dissenting vote. The councilman said the issue began with the Art Review Commission, and the same group should re-evaluate the proposal.
Councilman Steve Solomon disagreed, saying that sending the issue back to the commission would cause delays and cost the developer money on the project.
"We need to move forward," Solomon said.
Councilman Lou Waters sided with Solomon. Waters said he attended the Art Review Commission meeting when the proposal was rejected, and described it as "contentious."
That contentiousness carried through to the council meeting, where Art Review Commission Chairman Matthew Moutafis and Commissioner Zev Cywan railed against the proposed art installments.
"I think that when you propose something, there should be clarity," Moutafis said. He described the proposal before the art commission from artist Joe Tyler made as disorganized. Moutafis criticized the metal sculptures Tyler proposed for the project as "heavy and industrial looking."
A proposed metal structure covering a swing also was disparaged for a heavy appearance. In addition, Moutafis said the swing would be too hot to use in the summertime.
"It was a collection of stuff, but not an artistic representation of the site," Moutafis said. "There was no clarity."
Cywan said some of the pieces Tyler proposed looked to be duplications of others he had done elsewhere. He cited a proposed hummingbird and some lizards that look similar to works Tyler installed in a park and municipal building in the Phoenix area.
The commissioner also said Tyler's work was rust-prone because of the material he uses. Tyler made the tree structure outside the Oro Valley Public Library, which has sustained rust damage over the years.
"Mr. Tyler said he uses a special metal that stops rusting after time," Cywan commented, adding that he was unable to identify the material.
Tyler denied he had ever made claims about using a special metal. He also said that he was not given a chance to explain his proposal at the Art Review Commission meeting.
"It's very frustrating when you're not allowed to have a two-way conversation," Tyler said.
He said that the meeting was explained to him as an opportunity to discuss the concept he proposed, and that greater details about the material and construction would be handled at subsequent meetings.
Tyler also denied that the works would be duplicates of previous sculptures.
"The key pieces for this project are all originals," Tyler said.
Hornat asked what criteria the art commission uses to judge proposals.
"Is there any requirement in the code that says the Art Review Commission has to like it?" Hornat said.
Town Attorney Tobin Rosen said the commission differed from other town boards in significant ways.
"This is a land use code different from any other," Rosen said. "You are dealing with aesthetics and judgment."
According to town code: "(The) Art Review Commission is intended to evaluate the aesthetic value of public artwork… The Commission's work shall include consideration of improvements and threats to public health, safety and welfare by ensuring that public artwork does not pose any safety hazards and is accessible to all members of the community."