Public art adds to a community, as Shelbyville is well aware.
The Sculpture Walk throughout the city’s downtown is a prime example of commissioned artwork, however, art in the Shelby Historic District is fraught with issues that must balance the historic nature of the city with public art, which means the city may look into an ordinance to codify what can and cannot be added to the streetscape within the district without authorization.
“[The historic district had long] had guidelines prohibiting painting over unpainted brick. An ordinance will have more weight to it than HDC guidelines, and an ordinance will cover the entire city and not just the Historic District,” said Trace Kirkwood, historic district coordinator. An ordinance would establish a footprint with “some control over what is painted or sculpted in public view and in public places.”
An ordinance means to regulate what and where murals can be painted, but also the artistic medium used, “to assure that the materials used are long lasting. It’s also to assure the subject of murals are acceptable. Many cities have public art councils that decide if artwork is appropriate and done to a professional standard.”
Not a reaction
Kirkwood said that thinking about an ordinance is not a reaction to any one artwork.
Two art pieces have gotten much attention in the past couple of years — a large-scale mural on the back of a Henry Clay Street historic building and a painted eagle carving on the corner of Adair and Main streets. Both are in the historic district.
Soon to be added is the tile mosaic project sponsored by Shelby Main Street. Residents, groups, and businesses can purchase a 4 x 4 tile to paint and be added to this public art on the side of the Zaring & Sullivan building at 6th and Main streets.
“The Sculpture Tour in Shelbyville is entirely in the Historic District with the exception of the sculpture in front of the Conference Center,” Kirkwood said. “The Historic District Commission guidelines lack specific regulations for public art. It’s long had guidelines prohibiting painting over unpainted brick. An ordinance will have more weight to it than HDC Guidelines, and an ordinance will cover the entire city and not just the Historic District.”
Kirkwood said he has had a couple of complaints about public artwork, and some are opposed to murals entirely. “Others want to be able to paint a mural on every available wall,” he said.
A vivid and professional mural was begun on Henry Clay Street, but work stopped when the building owner had no permission to continue.
But that has changed. Kirkwood said the artist has permission now to go forward, although work had stopped this summer, and he’s not sure why.
“I think that Shelbyville has been resistant to public murals, but people are more open to them. If they are done professionally and tastefully they can add a lot to the attractiveness of a city. The ordinance will create an assurance that the city has better control over public artwork.”
The objective of an ordinance is to keep some control over what is painted or sculpted in public view and in public places.
Kirkwood has been to many towns in Kentucky and throughout the nation.
“I’ve seen many spaces done very tastefully and with nice proportion to size and numbers of murals,” he said. “I’ve been to other places where there has been little or no control, and public spaces become cluttered to the point of distraction. Some can look downright shabby. The municipalities that have the right blend, appearance, and vibe all operate some control over what is added to the cultural landscape of the city.”
How would it work?
Kirkwood said the city is hashing out the process now.
“I think there needs to be some sort of review of proposed public artwork. If a mural is going on a building in the Historic District, they will need approval of the HDC,” he said.
The next step is a draft ordinance, however, that process has not yet begun.
“We don’t want to stifle public art. We want to encourage it in the right locations,” he said.