UPDATE: Did Mayor TenHaken overrule the Visual Arts Commission?

UPDATE: Mural Gate is getting interesting. While I am still waiting for more details it seems the funding source for the mural may be in jeopardy. I am assuming that NO announcements will be made until this is smoothed out. The mural was to be privately funded.

Not only is PTH busy forcing the city council to do his dirty work, but apparently he also has been throwing his weight around with the VAC (Visual Arts Commission).

The commission is tasked with making recommendations to the city council and mayor when it comes to public art. They probably haven’t had this much drama since they had to determine if the Munson plaque at Phillips to the Falls was art (I wish I still had audio from that city council meeting, I think the Quen Be started crying).

At their December 20, 2022 meeting the commission picked a winner for the Bunker Ramp mural. There were 3 entries and they voted on two of them;

Jurying for the 10th Street Parking Ramp
Commissioner Boice presented the numeric rankings for the three submittals. The Commission reviewed and discussed the rankings and Commissioner Schaeffer made a motion for the Commission to select between Amber Hansen/Reyna Hernandez/Darcy Millette and Eric Vozzola. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Dickson. The motion passed unanimously. Commissioners Jamison and Hoesing voted in favor of Eric Vozzola. Commissioners Schaeffer, Lum, Dickson, and Zaijcek voted in favor of Amber Hansen/Reyna Hernandez/Darcy Millette.
Commissioner Jamison made a motion that all members of the Commission are in unanimous support of Amber Hansen/Reyna Hernandez/Darcy Millette. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Hoesing. The motion passed unanimously. Commissioner Boice will update the Commission once a final decision after consultation with the donor and the City.

The VAC handled the selection process the way they are supposed to by making sure the entries qualify for the criteria set forth and having an open and transparent vote on the selection. They even went a step further by taking a 2nd vote for unanimous consent (heck, they run their meetings tighter then the council).

Fast forward to the January 17th VAC meeting (that is posted wrong on the agenda as a Jan 11 meeting) and you will notice they had a special guest to talk about the mural selection;

• 10th Street Parking Ramp Mural, Jeff Eckhoff

What is missing from the minutes is exactly what Mr. Eckhoff told the VAC. According to my sources at the meeting the VAC was informed that the Mayor was not a fan of the VAC mural selection and the mayor instructed that they use the 2nd entry. Not sure why because I am getting conflicting accounts.

While all the artists involved are very talented, they do differ in styles. The winner(s) the VAC chose do the mural are more culturally diverse and present a lot of symbolism when it comes to Hispanic and Native American culture, while the 2nd place entry that the mayor prefers does more nature/abstract/modern commercialized work.

I don’t know what the entries look like, but as an artist I will admit all the artists involved do great work and I can understand how it would have been a difficult decision to make. But if I was voting, I would have picked what the VAC picked purely based on the complexity of their work. While Eric’s work is good, it lacks substance and doesn’t tell a story. Art should always have a message, or NOT, but there is a clear dividing line.

Now there are a lot of rumors swirling around about how this all came down (I’m working on getting more details) but I do know that the VAC leadership was not happy about how it came down and there was some blow back.

The one thing an experienced leader can do is get out of the way especially when you have a talented and capable committee to make a decision for you. But authoritarians struggle with delegation because they want to micro-manage everything. It seems the artists that were in the running were all very capable of creating a great mural, so why did a color blind graphic designer have to have a pity party?

I get it if the mayor was NOT happy about the selection, but to piss in the VAC’s cereal is not a good way to start a day.


#1 Mike Lee Zitterich on 02.10.23 at 9:13 am

Had to go back and re-read the resolution adopting the authority behind the Arts Program Coordinator, who then works with the Commission to recommend guidance of art placement around the city. If I recall, they are to make recommendations, and provide to the Mayor their thoughts, ideas, and guidance. Does the Commission tell the mayor which artworks to use, or do they ‘recommend” which artworks to use and placement of the art around the city?

According to Resolution adopted on 9/9/2022, they provide recommendations, not instructions.

#2 l3wis on 02.10.23 at 9:29 am

You are correct, but most confident and strong leaders (who appoint the commission members) would take the recommendations as face value and unless they are grossly misguided there was absolutely NO reason not to agree with their suggestion. Art is subjective, try comparing a Rothko to a Waterhouse. If you took 100 people and had them vote for the artist they prefer you would probably have an even vote, even though both artists are wildly different. My point is unless there was something wrong about the selection they made (I have not seen it) it is SOP for the mayor to tell others how much better, smarter and cultured he is instead of just appreciating the volunteers hard work and time dedication.

#3 Louella on 02.10.23 at 10:08 am

Something tells me the mayor wants his image on the mural.

#4 Mike Lee Zitterich on 02.10.23 at 10:23 am

But what I am saying, if I remember the conversation correctly, the Commission was only going to provide to the mayor a list of artwork, allowing him to choose which ones, and where to place them through out the city. I was asking, the question, what were the commission voting on, I think they voted on a # of proposed artworks to provide to the mayor. From that chosen list, the mayor now takes from it what he wants, and places them throughout the city. I think, I could be wrong, there was two parts to this discussion, the mayor wanted a Art Director to work with a commission to discuss the future assessment of local art, giving the Mayor a sense of direction of how the mayors office wishes to highlight the artwork

#5 Very Stable Genius on 02.10.23 at 11:10 am

If you can veto the art folks, then what stops you from vetoing the culture person?

( and Woodstock adds: “But I thought art was culture, or is it only art when you like it?”….. (…. “Wow, talk about some negative culture”…. (… “Or, would that be art?”…)))

#6 Watching from the Deep South on 02.10.23 at 11:24 am

“Something tells me the mayor wants his image on the mural.”

Right next to the image of crocodile tears hisself