There has been a great deal of official and unofficial discussion around here about the need for more public art in Downtown Petoskey. Recently we saw the creation and installation of an exciting new public art project and it started without the help of any planning board, committee or art patron.
Local student Benjamin Cheney and some of his friends have created an exciting outdoor street art mural on the brick Shoppers Lane wall of Gattles (with the permission of his father who owns the store), located off of Howard Street between Lake and Bay. Benjamin explains that “the mural will never be finished,” and invites everybody to come by and “paint when you want and what you will.” He plans to have paint available during the sidewalk sales to help the public contribute.
As you can see from the photographs here, taken by Petoskey City planner Amy Tweeten [Thanks Amy for your permission to use your shots.], a lot of work has been done so far and it is a dramatic and artful addition to the previously bare wall and to the Gaslight District.
Public reaction has been, well. . . predictable. Several people, myself included, have stopped by to talk with the artists and complement their work and initiative. A few other store owners have expressed concerns that Downtown Petoskey is not the place for this urban art form, that it may offend or threaten older shoppers, that it is not in keeping with the historic nature of the area, etc. For now, the urge to be outraged and propose pages of new censoring regulations has been resisted.
Personally, I like it. With all our new Cool Cities planning carefully and painstakingly working its way through various boards and committees, we now have some spontaneous public art that should appeal to younger and hipper people we supposedly want to attract and keep here. It is in an unobtrusive location. It is on an isolated wall that should help keep any over exuberance from spreading to other locations and turning into vandalism. If it is a little threatening and unusual, then isn't that one of the functions of good art?
As for the historic character of the Gaslight District, I think if Hemingway saw it, he would probably pick up a brush or a spray can and join in!
Speaking of the historic buildings, several Downtown property owners have strong objections to one of the other Cool Cities proposals -- creating an historic district to preserve the character of Downtown. They do not want restrictions on their freedom to do what they want with their property. For them (and for historic district proponents), the Benjamin Cheney and friends mural should be another in a series of recent wake up calls. Whether it is murals on the backs of our stores or revising the fronts for more retail visibility, or tearing down old theaters, property owners will make changes. Each of us will like a few of those modifications and hate others. But each of them will change the look and feel of our Downtown. If we don't like that, we need to reopen the discussion of an historic district.
This is also a reminder that the planning for downtown public art needs to be an open and inclusive process. There are a lot of people in this town with something fresh to contribute to the discussion. If we want, fresh, inspiring, diverse public art, we need a fresh, inspiring, diverse group to work on the project.
Thanks to everyone who has or will contribute to the new mural for bringing some new creativity and excitement to our Downtown and helping it inch towards becoming Cool.