The Ketchikan City Council Thursday night voted to terminate funding for a controversial, decorative rain gauge. The council previously approved up to $100,000 for the project. The planned source of funding has been a topic of debate. Some believed it would come from Cruise Passenger Vessel taxes. City Port and Harbors Director Steve Corporon, at an earlier meeting, stated the money would come from the Port Enterprise Fund.
Public testimony lasted more than an hour with most commenting on the rain gauge.
Artist Dave Rubin says he benefitted through the same selection process when given CPV grant funding for his piece “The Rock.” Rubin served on the committee that chose the rain gauge design.
“It’s not what we all pictured as art. I stood before you and said, ‘Look. My idea is art. It’s conservative, conventional, old-time art.’ And this isn’t. But then when I understood it, I realized that could be really cool.”
Rubin requested that the council postpone the decision until January so people can understand how the selection was made.
Ketchikan resident Dick Allen says he opposes the design, comparing it to a Ford Edsel. He says the design should have been presented to the public much earlier.
“The people that I’ve talked to have said ‘what’s wrong with the one we’ve got.’ …I can’t see $100,000, wherever it comes from. I hope next time that you have something like this that you put it out to the public so they can see and be able to talk with their council members.”
Allen says it may not have been intentional, but the process seemed secretive.
Ketchikan Arts Council Director Kathleen Light says in addition to “The Rock”, the same process was used to select art for the library and the salmon sculpture on Ketchikan Creek.
Light also asked the council to postpone a decision until after a proposed open house regarding the project.
“We would love if you would suspend your decision until January, like you said you would, and let us have this meeting on December 12th so that we can answer questions like Mr. Allen’s and this other gentleman’s, and we can clear up any misunderstandings that they may have about this piece of artwork.”
Because of some confusion, Light asked that the funding source be clarified so all can provide accurate information to the public.
Ray Troll wanted to share the viewpoint from an artist. He presented a document signed by other local artists in support of the rain gauge.
“We’re all in favor of the new rain gauge and the talented duo of Dutch artists that have been chosen by the citizen selection committee. We’ve reviewed their other works carefully, that means we’ve all looked at their websites and the artwork they do. As professional artists, we can feel confident that they will deliver a remarkable and professionally crafted piece of art that we can all be proud of.”
The piece is designed by two artists from Amsterdam. Troll believes it is already a successful piece because of the discussion it is generating. He noted that some Ketchikan artists have work displayed throughout the world.
Bianca Jurczak, who submitted a proposal for the rain gauge design, says she is not against the concept of getting a new gauge or the funding. She says she has legal and technical concerns.
“I don’t think that the bid procedure was actually put out properly. With something of such a high value, I think it’s why the KPAW structure maybe didn’t work so well or why it’s such a big thing. Also the fact that, they’re not from this country. That stings. That really hurts. I didn’t expect my piece to get picked, but I didn’t expect something that looked like that or that came from another country to be chosen over me.”
Jurczak says work visas would be required, and tax laws and additional costs have not been considered. She added not picking a local artist is a slap in the face. Jurczak says she would file an appeal if the project is approved.
About a dozen people spoke to the council about the rain gauge. About half in support of it and half against.
Part of the purpose of the design was to cover a gas vent adjacent to the Ketchikan Visitors Center building. There was some debate as to whether or not that criteria was met.
Council member Bob Sivertsen introduced the motion to eliminate funding for the rain gauge. He says the proposal does not address the objective of covering the vent pipe. Sivertsen feels the money should be directed elsewhere.
“The rain gauge is a want. It’s not part of one-percent-for-art, or any of those types of things. The city has more than its share of needs at this time. I think this money can be better spent.”
Sivertsen added that he has heard overwhelming negative input on the project.
Council member DeAnn Karlson says she supports art because it enhances the community. She too does not feel the selection process was adhered to.
“If they want us to back the process and support the process, I think there has to be a consistency to what that is. And if it’s not being supported in the RFP and their decisions, it makes it difficult for me to support it in terms of this particular project.”
Council member Marty West offered a motion to postpone the decision until January, saying emotions are very high.
“I think the timing was bad to have this during the same time we’re doing the budget. They are separate issues. I do think that we need time to let the Arts Council explain, and let people explore the project and they won’t find it quite as horrifying as they seem to feel that it is now.”
After further discussion votes were taken.
Wests motion to postpone failed 2 to 4 with West and Olsen voting in favor of postponement.
The vote to terminate the project passed 4-2 with West and Olsen voting against.
After the vote, the council briefly adjourned. A visibly upset Ray Troll approached Sivertsen at the council table. The discussion was not recorded or on record, but according the the Ketchikanb Daily News, Troll told Sivertsen, (quote) “This really makes us look bad, not only locally but globally.” Troll added that “he would remember this.”
The council is scheduled to meet Monday (December 9th) to continue budget discussions and select a replacement for Sam Bergeron who resigned from the council last month. The meeting begins at 7:00 pm in City Council Chambers. There will be time for public comment at the start of the meeting.