Oak Harbor council considers future of arts fund

Oak Harbor officials are considering changing the way creative arts are funded.

Oak Harbor officials are considering changing the way creative arts are funded, as well as what type of art should be brought into the city.

At a November council meeting, following a public hearing for the city’s 2023-2024 preliminary budget adoption, council members decided to have a conversation about the possibility of suspending the creative arts fund.

The council members discussed the issue at length at a workshop meeting Wednesday but made no decisions in the end.

Lately, art in the city has been a controversial topic. A sculpture called Angel de la Creatividad, initially set to be installed in Windjammer Park, has divided residents. Some are in support of the abstract piece of art; others have called it “ugly” and requested the park’s former windmill to be rebuilt instead.

Finance Director David Goldman explained that the city allocates 0.25% of the utility tax collected on water, sewer and solid waste services to go to the creative arts fund. The fund’s purpose is to foster arts and cultural programs, develop a program for public art and create and strengthen new and existing art organizations.

The tax rate means residents are contributing an average $0.57 per month, or $6.84 annually, to the fund.

Goldman expects the fund to grow from about $277,000 to around $316,000 by the end of 2023.

Gideon Cauffman, the archaeologist and project manager for the city, presented a list of upcoming projects and their costs, including several abstract sculptures from the Joseph Kinnebrew collection and the Angel de la Creatividad sculpture. The angel sculpture will be in either Windjammer or Flintstone Park and an update is planned to be presented at the March council workshop.

City Administrator Blaine Oborn said the city has budgeted around $40,600 for the arts, as well as about $35,000 in additional expenses, for the next two years.

Cynthia Mason, who is a member of the arts commission, said that the fund should not be cut because art is important for economic development. She pointed out that the commission does not have a staff member to help them through the decision-making process.

Councilmember Jim Woessner said he wished art in the city would involve hands-on, interactive pieces for children or summer camps and after-school programs that involve art.

Councilmember Dan Evans said he received comments from constituents asking why there is so much money in the arts fund “when we don’t have many things coming out of it.” He was in favor of reallocating the 0.25% of utility taxes to the city’s general fund and conducting transfers of money to the creative arts fund as needed, following approval from council.

“Art can be a discussion piece, but it sure shouldn’t be something that tears the community apart,” he said.

Councilmember Beth Munns said she didn’t think the arts fund should be absorbed into the city’s general fund but said she didn’t want to see “sculptures everywhere.”

Councilmember Bryan Stucky said it was no secret that there has been friction between the arts commission and council. He said he was fine with keeping the arts budget as is, but also called for more interactive pieces and less abstract sculptures.

Mayor Pro Tem Tara Hizon said there is so much money in the fund due to the pandemic when art pieces could not be commissioned.

“I don’t think having $300,000 sitting in the creative arts fund is a problem, I think it’s an opportunity,” she said, for events and community programs that could eventually become self-sustaining.