Carmel city council considers expanding role of public art advisory committee 


The Carmel City Council is considering expanding the role of the Carmel Public Art Advisory Committee. 

An ordinance introduced at the Oct. 19 meeting would require the mayor to seek comment and input from the committee regarding the purchase of artwork that costs more than $5,000. Currently, the committee only provides input on the location for selected pieces. 

The proposed ordinance states that the mayor must seek input from the committee at least 60 days before the planned date to purchase the art. The 60-day notice period may be waived by a majority vote of the committee for donations or a special purchase opportunity, such as a limited-time sale. 

The recommendations of the committee are advisory only, with the mayor having “full and final authority” to select and place the art, according to the ordinance, which is unchanged from the current arrangement. 

The proposal comes after Mayor Jim Brainard asked the city council in September to approve $180,000 for the purchase of two sculptures to represent minority groups. “Waiting to Cross” is a sculpture by J. Seward Johnson of a Black girl swinging around a stop sign, while the other is not yet designed but would represent the city’s Indian community. 

The council approved the funds by a 7-2 vote but questioned the process of selecting the sculptures after receiving feedback that some in the Black community did not feel the “Waiting to Cross” sculpture represented them well and that they would prefer a piece by a Black artist. 

The committee was formed in February 2018 after the city placed three large, colorful sculptures depicting youth sports in roundabouts along Hazel Dell Parkway. While some residents provided positive feedback about the installation, many others said they would have preferred to see them placed elsewhere. 

At the Oct. 19 meeting, City Councilor Jeff Worrell said establishing the committee in 2018 was a “first step” but that the time had come to “broaden and further clarify within the ordinance what the committee’s role could be.” 

In October 2018, a former chairman of the committee told the council that committee members found it difficult to separate discussions about the location of the art from the art itself and said the committee would like to have more of a role in selecting the art. The council decided not to pursue any changes to the ordinance at that time. 

The council is expected to vote on the ordinance at its Nov. 16 meeting. 

Committee weighs in 

In its first meeting since the Carmel City Council proposed expanding its scope, the Carmel Public Art Advisory Committee on Oct. 20 weighed in on the selection of two sculptures to represent minorities in the city. 

Committee members were split in their opinions of adding the sculptures representing the Black and Indian communities. 

Committee member Karen Poyser said it made sense to add a piece by Seward Johnson to diversify the city’s existing collection, which is the largest of that series in the world. 

“The idea of using a little Black girl from that time (period) is more than appropriate,” Poyser said. 

Committee member Kelvin Okamoto disagreed. 

“I like the sculptures, but I’m not in favor of actually purchasing these, because we can easily save the money and spend it on sculptures by individuals of the particular races being depicted,” Okamoto said. “I understand we can do both, but to some extent, Seward Johnson represents mostly the caucasian community. Let’s have sculptures by those who are actually part of the communities we’re trying to represent.” 

Okamoto said he’d like to see a long-term plan for adding artwork to represent minorities, and he asked Mayor Jim Brainard how these two communities were selected for the first sculptures. Brainard said he plans to continue diversifying the collection. 

“Eventually I’d like to do a person representing someone from China, too,” Brainard said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to convince the council to come up with that much money immediately, so we picked one.” 

Murals planned in Monon tunnels 

Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation is partnering with students at Carmel High School to create murals for four tunnels along the Monon Greenway within the city. 

CCPR Director Michael Klitzing presented a brief overview of the project at the Carmel Public Art Advisory Committee’s Oct. 20 virtual meeting. 

The murals themes are: 

  • I-465: A spotlight on the Carmel community
  • 116th Street: Nature and the environment 
  • City Center Drive: Celebrating the arts 
  • U.S. 31: Carmel schools of excellence 

Each mural is also proposed to highlight Carmel’s diversity. 

Klitzing said the entire project is likely to take three or four years to complete.