Monday, October 22, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 33

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on April 12th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 6 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 6

Santa Maria's public arts plan splits artists, developers


A mural on a wall at 420 S. McClelland St. depicts a couple holding up a glass of wine between a young girl clasping a giant strawberry and a chef cooking vegetables in a pot. Spilling out from them are rows of a field complete with a tractor. All the images represent the many facets of Santa Maria’s culture and community, a vibrant portrait of a town rich in history and looking to the future.

But the mural, by artist Diane Smith, wouldn’t exist in front of Santa Maria Lawn Bowling’s property if weren’t for public art funding. And Smith’s work isn’t alone. At least 13 more pieces—including paintings, sculptures, murals, and more—dot the city’s landscape.

Diane Smith’s mural on McClelland Street is one of 14 public art pieces in Santa Maria. A new plan would require builders to dedicate 1 percent of their total building costs to a special fund to purchase and maintain public art or fund community arts education.

The public art is part of an ongoing effort by some in city government to push for similar work, as outlined in the city’s Public Art Master Plan. The plan is currently awaiting approval by the city’s planning commission.

“It was a concept from a couple of people who thought we could create something,” said Dennis Smitherman, management analyst with the Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department. “Right now there is no process and procedure for public art.”

The plan lays out specific goals and implementation strategies designed to support Santa Maria’s identity and culture, embrace public art as a citywide beautification project, highlight specific entries into downtown and unique neighborhoods such as the Carriage District, and more. Points in the plan include easing restrictions on permits for art to simplify the process and funding pedestrian-oriented art to make the community more walkable. The plan also includes enhancing retail spaces with artwork and embellishing blank walls, light poles, or utility boxes.

One potential project outlined in the plan involves hiring an artist to create something for the pedestrian walkway over Broadway that connects Town Center West with Town Center East.

It’s not that the idea of public art itself has any particularly vehement opponents. What no one can seem to agree on, at least in Santa Maria, is who should shoulder the costs of funding and what exactly is included as “public art.”

In order to execute funding for the plan, an ordinance was drafted and presented to the Planning Commission in December 2016. The ordinance lays out a plan for funding public art through commercial and residential development. It would require private developers with development costs of $250,000 or more (excluding residential complexes with fewer than four homes) to contribute 1 percent of costs declared on building permit applications to the public art fund. According to the plan, the city would also designate 1 percent of capital expenditures for public art as well.

Developers do have the option of installing their own public art; however, the city has the authority to step in and nix artwork that doesn’t meet its standards. In lieu of contributing a public art piece at their development, builders would then have to cough up the 1 percent. Basically, developers can choose to pay into a fund or create city-approved art on their own.

Smitherman told the Sun that builders who are creating in the community should be asked to give back more than just a building. Plus, the costs for committing to public art in Santa Maria are substantially lower than building in other nearby areas such as San Luis Obispo.

“This is typically how it’s done,” he said. “What we’re asking for is a tiny percent to help beautify. If you look at the building fees for Santa Maria as compared to the rest of coast, we fall very much so in the middle.”

In December, the ordinance went before the Santa Maria Planning Commission for the first time.

“We got to see it from a different perspective,” Smitherman said. “We made some small edits, some verbiage changes. It was nothing to impact the overall feel.”

On April 6, it went back to the commission for another review. Community members packed into a small room to voice their support for the plan and public arts at the meeting. As they spoke one by one, they all echoed a similar theme: Public art is important, and Santa Maria needs it.

At an April 6 Planning Commission meeting in Santa Maria, residents and local artists urged commissioners to approve the city’s Public Arts Master Plan. Ruben Espinoza (left) and Peggy Greer (right), with the Santa Maria Arts Council, voiced frustration at the lack of public arts within the city.

In a meeting that wavered from jovial and compassionate to tense and frustrating, residents pushed back when some commissioners and staff suggested taxpayers, not developers, be responsible for the funding.

The plan allocates 50 percent of the total fund to acquiring public art, 10 percent to maintenance, and 30 percent to art education. Robert Dickerson, Planning Commission chair, questioned the need for allocating arts education funds when similar programs exist or could be funded in other ways. Dickerson said he would prefer to see that 30 percent used to purchase more art.

“If we’re trying to get more art into public spaces, why are we carving off 30 percent for what you already have as a line-item budget within your own Recs and Parks budgets as ‘art education’?” Dickerson said. “Why are we subsidizing that?”

But it was largely the 1 percent allocation from builders that created the most pushback. Dickerson questioned why, if public art was so valuable to the public, taxpayers weren’t being asked to pay for it.

“I have no problem with art; I think it’s very important,” said Tim Seifert, planning commissioner and senior vice president of Dan Blough Construction. “We gotta figure out a better way to pay for it. That’s my only concern. I don’t like where the money is coming from, and I don’t agree with it.”

Seifert asked why it wasn’t possible to ask every member of the community to chip in a dollar toward the fund. He said rising costs associated with building made it hard for builders to contribute the requested 1 percent.

Planning for art
The Santa Maria Planning Commission is expected to make a decision about the public art plan during a May 17 hearing at 6:30 p.m. at Santa Maria City Hall, 110 E. Cook St., Santa Maria. The public is welcome to attend. The plan is available online to review at

“I’m just trying to stay in business,” he said.

Citizens speaking at the meeting expressed interest in not just funding arts but allocating those funds for public arts education as well.

“One of the things that will attract people to this city is if it is safer,” Gale McNeeley, Santa Maria musician and performer, said at the meeting. “What makes a city safe is giving youth something to do with their time other than join gangs. ... I really think what you’re doing is an investment.”

Outside the meeting, residents expressed frustration with the pushback. Joelyn Lutz, local singer/songwriter and performer, said the meeting and ensuing dispute over asking builders to pay was upsetting.

“How much money is too much money for people to make?” she asked. “How much money is sitting in a bank or something? I don’t understand. These developers have the money. To not share and to keep putting it on us, the people that don’t have the money, it’s heartbreaking.”

As for how to proceed, Smitherman said he doesn’t want to commit to the 1 percent fee and is willing to negotiate to allow the plan to move forward. The Planning Commision will meet May 17 to make a final decision.

“The arts community wants this to succeed,” Smitherman said.

Arts and Lifestyle writer Rebecca Rose loves public murals. Contact her at

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