By Adam Aasen
Walk through the Carmel Arts & Design District on a busy weekend and you’ll find families huddled around statues posing for pictures with the outdoor pieces of art.
Now, if Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard gets his way, there might be more of these public art installations throughout Carmel.
Due to an economic recession and budget concerns, no new statues have been purchased or installed in years, but the mayor and several city councilors have said they hope that doesn’t mean the end of the city’s public arts initiative.
“We will continue to do it, especially in the roundabouts,” Brainard said. “I want to move ahead and continue our public arts program.”
There are no immediate plans, but the topic was mentioned at a recent council committee meeting discussing changes to the city’s comprehensive plan.
Thirteen J. Seward Johnson statues adorn Carmel’s historic downtown, two are installed at City Center and art installations fill some city roundabouts.
Some residents have raised concerns about the cost of public art, with the Johnson statues costing $80,000 each and one artwork in the roundabout at 136th Street and Range Line Road costing $80,000.
City Councilor Ron Carter said when he visits major cities around the world he sees a commitment to public art.
“People feel good when they’re around art,” he said. “Without question we need to have more outdoor art in appropriate places. I feel like we’ve done a good of putting art installations in place, but we can always do more.”
The next targeted installation would likely be as part of the Midtown Redevelopmet Plan, a proposed $100 million mix-used development which would connect the Arts & Design District and City Center along an expanded Monon Trail.
Brainard said it’s important to use artwork to promote walkability around town.
“It has to be an interesting walk to have pedestrians to walk,” he said.
Carter said he feels outdoor art is integral to the Midtown Plan.
“There’s no reason to develop Midtown and have it be a sterile environment as far as culture or art is concerned,” he said.
Brainard also said he would like the art to be integrated into new roundabout construction.
But not everyone is over the moon about the statues. In the past, TV news outlets have done several stories with man-on-street interviews calling the statues “creepy” and a “waste of money.”
Dan McFeely, a former newspaper reporter and current economic development consultant for Brainard, previously wrote that he initially thought the criticism came from “anti-Carmel zealots who hate everything about the city, or anti-Brainards who hate the mayor.”
But he later admitted that might not be the case.
“Personally, I don’t hate them,” he wrote. “And I don’t think they are creepy. But I do wonder why so many do.”
The Carmel Street Department is in charge of statue upkeep, repainting them on a regular basis, but couldn’t provide figures on the cost of maintenance.
No current city councilors have come out and said they hate the statues or that they don’t support outdoor art, but some questioned whether there is enough money in the budget to support such projects.
“I love public art as much as anyone else, but when your wallet is a little tight, it’s probably not the time to be buying art work,” Councilor Rick Sharp said.
Sharp said he is more worried about paying for issues such as fixing drainage problems throughout Carmel.
Brainard pointed out that much of the art was previously paid for through projects coming in under budget.
Councilor Luci Snyder said she loves the idea of adding more public art but would rather see citizens and local businesses contribute donations to sponsor new art in the area. She said it could be a neat way for businesses to brag, “That’s my statue right there!”
Brainard said he wouldn’t mind looking at asking commercial real estate developers to donate a small percentage of their project costs to a public art fund.
Although the mayor said he would prefer for the city to own the art because it allows them to have control over upkeep and how it is displayed. Plus, the art should maintain its value.
“Art is an asset,” he said. “If we ever were in dire financial straits we could sell that art.”