On a slow day, I like to pick up the pace and talk a nice jog around the town. I have learned during these jogs that for such a, “small town,” Athens has many places that I need to discover. Good, bad or ugly.
A few weeks ago, I jogged across Walker Street and noticed a plain, gray, ugly and deteriorating wall that stretched along the sidewalk. What is ironic about this wall is the fact that ARTS/West, an art facility that serves the citizens of Athens as part of the City of Athens’ Arts, Parks and Recreation Department, is located nearby. I look at these walls and I can only think that they beg for some kind of transformation that only Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb can perform on The Today Show.
On Monday night the City and Safety Services Committee listened to proposals on issues ranging from snow removal to an art project. I did not know that the art project in particular would affect the same wall that I came in contact with a few weeks ago.
That wall that is considered an eyesore may get its makeover, or at least a fresh coat of paint.
The Athens City Council listened to a proposal from local artist and Ohio University student Jolena Hansbarger to transform the wall for Athens Beautification Day in the form of a mural.
— The New Political (@TheNewPolitical) February 9, 2016
Hansbarger wants to paint Greek mythological figures such as Poseidon along with multiple constellations in her current plans for the mural.
Councilman Kent Butler, D-1st Ward, is a member of the City and Safety Services Committee and supports the proposal.
“I embrace art outside of an art complex,” said Butler, who also stated that the proposal is privately funded and would not require city money.
The mural would allow residents of Athens to take part in its creation by being the artists themselves and painting the design that Hansbarger put forth in her proposal. Yes, this includes children, and Hansbarger knows that she may need to add some extra hours fixing the potential mistakes those novice painters could make.
“I don’t expect them (children) to paint inside the lines of my design, so I plan on working to fix those problems,” said Hansbarger.
Now children who aspire to be the next Picasso may not be the only problem with the mural, but elderly citizens who see the project as a distraction for the neighbors of the wall brought up objections to the committee.
Multiple residents brought up the potentially controversial subject material, the glow-in-the-dark paint (proposed to be used), and the location of the mural as potential headaches for neighbors.
At the same time, Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, does not think the wall serves the best interests of Athens residents due to its mythological subject matter and the question of ownership of the artwork once the mural is finished. Papai expressed concern that the city would have to use public funding to keep the wall maintained after the mural begins to wear out or the wall experiences damages.
Councilman Patrick McGee, I-At Large, proposed an alternative to the Walker Street wall for Hansbarger to paint the mural.
“I wish there was a portable wall that can display this art for not just the west side, but the entire city,” said McGee.
McGee thinks that the art would best serve Athens if it travels around the city for all residents to see and not just the residents that live near the permanent wall.
Tensions were never high in the room, and each member of the council treated each other with respect. There was never an instance when I thought the council meeting would turn into an episode of The Jerry Springer Show, which is what I would expect from an Athens City Council meeting. They were talking about art tonight, not war.
I learned a lot about the city I live in during the hour that I sat in on the meeting, making it clear to me that these meetings mean a lot to me. Will I sit in on every meeting from this point on? Probably not, but I will surely make an effort to go to more council meetings, or at least appreciate the work these government figures do for their citizens.
As to the proposal itself, the Committee will revisit the matter next week. Until then, I will still be walking by that ugly hunk of concrete on Walker Street when I take a jog around Athens.