By Ryan Gueningsman
DELANO, MN - It took another lengthy discussion at Tuesday night’s Delano City Council meeting, but plans will be moving forward for the “Pillar of the Community” art sculpture as the anchor project of a riverfront sculpture walk.
A concept plan of the riverfront sculpture walk, located along the west side of the Crow River, south of the railroad bridge and between Highway 12 and the river, was shown at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Delano City Administrator Phil Kern said that, long-term, the area is meant to be developed as an area for the enhancement of arts, enhancement and interaction with the river, and for aesthetic improvement along the Highway 12 corridor.
The land was acquired several years ago by the City of Delano and Minnesota Department of Transportation for purposes of flood mitigation.
The “Pillar of the Community” sculpture project was brought to city as the first project of the sculpture walk, and has been reviewed under the city’s public art policy, which was approved late last year.
The proposal brought to the city council calls for a granite pillar that would be 8 feet tall, along with a second 8-foot pillar tipped over at the base, appearing as if it fell off the one standing pillar. Historical artifacts would then be attached to the structure.
The review process includes notification of all property owners within 350 feet of the sculpture walk area, placement of the application on the city’s website and at city hall, and review by three designated groups the city’s park and recreation commission, the city’s historical preservation committee, and also the Delano Area Council for Arts and Culture.
For the Pillar of the Community project, the Delano Area Council for Arts and Culture was part of the group submitting the application, thus giving the project favorable review.
“The park and rec group did not come to a formal recommendation they were split 3-3 on a motion whether or not to accept this,” Kern said, adding that those who cast dissenting votes were not sure if it conformed to the city’s art policy.
However, the park board did come to a majority recommendation of site placement should the city council give the go-ahead on the project. The site favored by the park board was on the south part of the area and near the Highway 12 bridge that spans the Crow River, and is referred to as site 11.
He said this site was favored because it is accessible by trail, is located near the river, and is out of the way of any potential future construction. The park and recreation commission also recommended the historic preservation committee be tasked with reviewing the artifacts that are submitted to be sure they are appropriate.
When the city’s historical preservation commission met to review the proposal, it favored a location on the northern part of the site, and had a similar recommendation on approving artifacts.
The final step in the process, after all three groups have met to review proposals, is to have a representative from each group meet to summarize comments and feedback from their respective groups. For this project, that group of representatives met Feb. 1.
Kern said that group of representatives suggested taking the various recommendations under advisement as the council makes the final decision, but the group did not make a formal recommendation.
City staff also noted concerns about the development of the site, which could include a parking lot and gazebo.
Gail Scholl, of the Council for Arts and Culture, said her committee met and reviewed the concept prior to the completion of the riverfront sculpture walk concept plan, and said organizers should be careful about placement of sculptures in an area where construction may take place.
Jason Franzen, representing the historic preservation committee, met with project artist Zoran Mojsilov and visited his workshop. Franzen stated his concerns with the project were addressed. Franzen also indicated he did not think the sculpture should be placed on site 11 as it could be conceived as insulting to the artist.
With a deadline of March looming for the project, the council discussed total costs to get the site ready, which varies depending on the site, and range anywhere from nothing to $100,000.
Council Member Dan Vick asked for clarification if there are any costs at all to the city associated with the project.
Kern said the application group has asked the city to do the soil borings and to engineer and prepare the base of the site. Kern said the city has identified those costs and said the group has worked to secure funding sources for them and does believe it is in place.
“Do believe, or guarantee?” Council Member Holly Schrupp asked. “I want to know the money is there if we are going to spend money on this.”
Kern said funding has been secured from the Delano Dream Team II, the Delano-Franklin Historical Society, and the Delano Foundation.
Vick said his big concern is that no tax dollars be used for the project.
Council Member Derek Schansberg asked about the concerns those on the park commission who voted against it had, and asked if proposed art projects need to meet every guideline in the policy, or if it is just that, a guideline.
Stolfa said it would be hard for a project to meet every guideline.
“I also believe that anything that goes there is going to be better artistically than what was there,” Schansberg said.
Schrupp asked about the March due date associated with the grant funds, and if that meant the project needs to be complete, or just in the works.
Deb DeBeer of the Delano Area Council for Arts and Culture said she has approached the grant holders about an extension, of which they seem receptive.
Schrupp asked if the artifacts have to be historical in nature, or historical to Delano.
“The artifacts are Delano,” DeBeer said, noting the project presented to the students involved was to incorporate Delano’s history.
Stolfa likened the sculpture proposal to that of the proposal for improvements to the ball field by the Delano Athletic Club. Stating she is not an “authority on art,” she felt it is the council’s role to provide an outlet for those who are interested in art.
“It shouldn’t be the council’s role to ‘stand in the way and throw barriers out there,’” she said.
“We’re still the final deciding body,” Schrupp responded. “They’re going to hold our feet to the fire.”
Additional discussion took place, with Mayor Dale Graunke noting he’s glad a policy has been developed and is now in place for future applications as they may come forward.
However, conversation quickly turned back to the sculpture proposal that was on the table.
“I haven’t run into one person yet who’s liked it,” Vick said.
DeBeer said she has about 60 signatures that were obtained at the Old-Fashioned Christmas in downtown Delano event in December in favor of the project.
Vick said he feels site 11 would be a good spot, and made a motion to place the sculpture on site 11. Schrupp seconded the motion, to allow additional discussion.
It was noted the historical preservation committee was not favorable to site 11 because it could be perceived as insulting to the artist.
Chris Brazelton of the Delano Area Council for Arts and Culture said she feels people are objecting to a concept that was not done by the actual artist, and also based on Mojsilov’s work on the entrance monuments located at the intersection of Highway 12 and Bridge Avenue. She said Mojsilov was not given free rein on that project, and said people may be basing their decisions on this piece based on some facts that aren’t true to this artist.
She urged the council to take that into consideration when deciding to put the sculpture in a prominent place, instead of tucking it away somewhere.
“I think having it is better than not having it,” Schrupp said.
Vick said it seems like it shows Delano is in ruins, and he doesn’t want that to be people’s perception of the community.
Graunke called for a vote on placing the sculpture on site 11, with Vick voting in favor of it, Graunke, Schansberg, and Stolfa voting against it, and Schrupp abstaining.
After a bit more discussion, Stolfa made a motion to place the sculpture on a site toward the middle of the area, close to where it had originally been proposed so it is not directly across from businesses that had voiced objection to it.
Vick then noted he would like to see something planted near it, which the Delano Area Council for Arts and Culture representatives said they would be open for discussion on. The motion was approved 4-0, with Vick abstaining.