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After mystery piano, Petoskey leaders advance public art policy

About three months after residents rallied behind a mysterious piano that appeared in a pedestrian walkway, the City of Petoskey formally approved a policy for displaying public art projects.

The 12-page document was created and designed by a subcommittee of city councilmembers, staff and stakeholders over the past year.

It outlines the creation of two new entities to oversee the selection and the logistics of installing an art project on city property.

Back in May, city staff shared concern that the piano that appeared in the walkway underneath U.S. 31 set a bad precedent when it comes to policy around dumping.

Petoskey Mayor John Murphy said a formal process will help eliminate confusion.

"I see this being the wheel-way for enhancing art within the community and to help enhance the character of Petoskey," Murphy said. "I think we live in a beautiful nature setting but I think we can also improve with some quality, human art."

The document said the city council can put out requests for proposals for specific projects. Local artists can respond to calls by submitting a plan to the Petoskey Arts Commission.

This new body will meet quarterly and consist of Murphy (or an appointee), City Manager Shane Horn, a staff member of the Downtown Management Board, a staff member from the City Parks and Recreation Department, a staff member from the Crooked Tree Arts Center and two residents.

Artists proposals needs to include images of the proposed project, dimensions, materials, costs, and site requirements.

In addition, art selection committees will be formed for each new project to help select works and oversee their installation. That body will be made up of community members and vary by project.

Petoskey City Manager Shane Horn said the model takes some inspiration from the Traverse City Arts Commission.

"We've had a lot of good discussion up to this point obviously with the goal of providing public art to our city," Horn said. "This is not a one-off, one-year thing but something we can build on as we go."

During the Aug. 7 meeting, some city councilmembers expressed concern with the policy's multiple steps and the makeup of the new committees.

"I already feel like the process is so bureaucratic it's kind of taking the artistic expression out of it," said Councilmember Lindsey Walker. "It feels boring already ... I understand the need for a policy and process but we're talking about art."

However, councilmembers ultimately voted to approve the policy unanimously with the stipulation that the process could be subject to change if issues arise.

"I don't want this to be political but I also want this to move forward," Murphy said.

A recording of the Aug. 7 meeting is available on the city's YouTube page.

Earlier this year, the city council set aside $40,000 in the 2023 budget. The Downtown Management Board also voted to put in $10,000. Each art piece will be insured by the city while on loan or upon acquisition.

Funding sources may also include grants and donations.

A full copy of the approved Public Art Policy is posted on the city's website. Applications are open to join the Petoskey Arts Commission, they are due by 5 p.m. on Aug. 15.

The Petoskey City Council meets next at 6 p.m. on Aug. 21 in Petoskey City Hall at 101 East Lake Street.

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.