New policy will fund public art in Marquette

Mike Trickey looks over the Marquette Area Veterans Memorial at Harlow Park Thursday. Paving bricks with the names of contibutors to the memorial continue to grow in numbers. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — Residents and visitors to the city can expect to see more public art as Marquette evolves through a new fund created to grow and leverage money for that purpose.

The Marquette City Commission last week unanimously passed the new public art policy — which was more than a year in the making — establishing the Public Art Fund and an official oversight body.

The seven-member Marquette Public Art Commission will administer an annual contribution of $30,000 from the city’s general fund to be put toward commissioning, purchasing and maintaining public art in the city.

The policy was created by the Public Art Task Force in accordance with the City of Marquette Community Master Plan, adopted in 2015.

Marquette Arts and Culture Center Manager Tiina Harris said public art draws people to a city, and is an indicator of a vibrant, healthy creative community and a high quality of life. It also enhances property value and tourism, she said, making the city more interesting and beautiful for visitors, residents and prospective residents.

And it’s delightful to see it, she said.

“It’s there for the community to enjoy, they’re going to be a part of it, they can participate in it,” Harris said. “Public art just begins a community dialogue, it’s free, anyone can enjoy public art, by definition. … So it’s an invitation to engage, it’s an invitation to have a community dialogue, it’s an invitation to enjoy, so I’m really excited about it.”

Harris said public art is defined as being temporary or permanent works of art displayed in public as the product of a skilled artist or group of artists. It can be in the form of architectural, sculptural, lighting, visual, sound, digital or a wide variety of other art, and the selection of artists will be a competitive process, she said.

Public art commissioners will be appointed by the city commission and serve staggered three-year terms, Harris said, with at least four required to have some kind of professional artistic expertise.

Harris said she was elated but not surprised by the policy’s passage, since the task force had several work sessions with the commission over the last year and a half.

The task force met twice monthly, researching how other cities around the country define, fund and maintain public art. Many use an ordinance requiring a certain percentage of every new development be put toward some form of public art, Harris said. That idea was explored but raised concerns from the city commission.

The $30,000 amount was selected as an approximate average of 1 percent of the annual capital budget for the city, Harris said.

The amount will be adjusted each year by the state property tax inflation rate multiplier then in effect, or 5 percent, whichever is less, according to city documents. The funds will be appropriated beginning with fiscal year 2018.

The fund will also be able to leverage grant funding and, Harris said, “Anyone wishing to donate resources or talent to that cause now have a venue through which to do so.”

It may take a number of years for the fund to accumulate, since public art is expensive, Harris said, adding the statue of Father Marquette on Front Street would today cost about $250,000.

Barb Kelly, who was on the task force and serves on the Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee, said she’s excited for the future of public art in Marquette.

Kelly was integral in organizing the upgrades currently being done to Father Marquette Park, and she said she is also glad there will be a funded process to maintain and protect public art. The Father Marquette statue is the most valuable piece of art in the city and does require professional cleaning from time to time, she said.

Kelly is “thrilled about the accomplishments of the task force” and thinks it “wise of the city” to move this direction, she said.

“I think it will be a spark for other good things to happen,” Kelly said.

Commissioner Sarah Reynolds said when she first started on the commission, she added public art to the city’s 10-year plan.

“It wasn’t on there and it was on my mind,” Reynolds said. “So I’m glad that right now we are passing this, and it’s going to be moving forward.”

Commissioner Mike Conley served as the commission representative on the task force and said it was a hardworking group who taught him the value of public art. He said he looks forward to adding the Phil Niemisto statue to the city’s public art collection.

“We have public art, we’re just having a formal policy to establish it, and (we’re) funding it,” Conley said. “It makes our community stronger, it makes us more attractive to our guests and to our residents, it helps us grow economically, and so this is an investment, not an expense.”

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is