The Laramie City Council will decide during its meeting tonight how much city funding — if any — to allocate to potential art installations on the two sculpture pads already in place along the new Snowy Range Road Bridge.
The $540,000 available for bridge enhancements could be spent on several projects, and the City Council discussed options — including extending the pedestrian railing to adding streetlights on Clark Street in West Laramie — during its work session June 11. Of those funds, $150,000 was proposed to be used for temporary art pieces for the sculpture pads on Third and Harney streets as well as Snowy Range Road and Clark Street.
However, the funding doesn’t cover all the projects the Council expressed interest in pursuing.
“The foresight that was placed on having sculpture pads included in (the project) has definitely been well regarded by the community,” Laramie Public Art Coalition Director Michelle Visser told the Laramie Boomerang on Friday. “Now that we’ve already seen the value of putting them there, it seems really important that we continue the investment of getting art placed on them.”
Even with the $150,000 in requested funding, temporary art is less expensive than a permanent installation when considering maintenance costs and artist payment, Visser explained during the work session.
“A portion of that money does indeed come back into our community,” she said. “The artist will come to our community and invest in accommodations and food while they’re here. The engagement in the community, it will draw us to rent a facility, engage with local restaurants, photographers, advertising.”
While many on the current council expressed their support for public art, Councilman Charles McKinney said during the work session the money might be better spent elsewhere.
“We’re going to spend $150,000 on art, but we’re not going to put up a guard rail?” he asked. “Safety of the public is the first thing we should worry about.”
However, city staff guardrails could be cost prohibitive and would also hinder snow removal efforts. McKinney asked staff to investigate what other sources of funding might be available.
The city has also received a petition from a group of residents asking for additional fencing, landscaping and other enhancements to both beautify the bridge and make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. City staff worked with the Wyoming Department of Transportation on obtaining quotes for the projects listed in the petition, with the costs for all proposed projects exceeding allocated funding.
Visser said art is still a valuable investment, citing research that shows public art can retain younger populations within a community and enhance neighborhood vitality.
During a June work session, Visser explained LPAC’s ideas and inspirations for the temporary art pieces, envisioning them as ways to help create special events and reasons for the community to get together to celebrate art. Temporary art could also be changed as new ideas, events or themes become relevant to the community, she said.
Similar temporary art programs are in place all over the country, including partnership with local students to create temporary art with a recycling theme for the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Grant Teton National Park.
Visser told the Boomerang the public would be involved in the art selection process here in Laramie as well.
“We absolutely want to make sure that the people that live in the neighborhood of the sculpture pads, particularly the West Side, we want them to feel informed about our process,” she said. “We want them to know that they will be invested to be part of the process.”