Master Design 

The City seeks direction for $3.2 million in Richmond's public art.

click to enlarge "Thin Blue Line," by Michael Stutz, hangs on the eastern wall of the Richmond Police Department headquarters at Grace and Jefferson streets.

Scott Elmquist

"Thin Blue Line," by Michael Stutz, hangs on the eastern wall of the Richmond Police Department headquarters at Grace and Jefferson streets.

Flush with cash for public art, Richmond is looking for a grand plan.

The city wants to hire San Diego’s former public art director, a nationally known consultant, to develop a vision of how Richmond should define, promote and expand its public art program.

City officials intend to award a $150,000 contract to Gail M. Goldman Associates, based in La Jolla, California. Goldman was the longtime director of San Diego’s celebrated public arts program. Before that, she was the director of Art in Public Places and Individual Artist Programs for the Colorado Council on the Arts and Humanities. She is co-founder of Public Art Network, a national professional public art association.

Goldman will work with Gretchen Freeman, also a nationally known public art consultant and founder of Phoenix’s public art program. Freeman says the two drafted master plans together for San Antonio and Calgary, in Alberta, Canada.

“This job really interested us because there is sort of a buzz around the country around Richmond and a lot of creative energy emanating from the city,” Freeman says. “I’ve even heard it called the new Austin in that it’s a place steeped in history with a lot of innovative things happening.”

As in other cities, Richmond gets its money for public art projects by diverting a percentage of the budgets for capital projects. One percent of the cost of new city projects or renovations more than $250,000 goes to fund public art — murals, sculptures and statues that dot the city at parks, public spaces and police and fire stations.

Until recently, that budget was fairly small. But the construction of the new city jail and two city schools catapulted funding to unprecedented levels. The city now has $3.2 million to spend on public art. Serious money calls for a serious plan.

Freeman says developing a master plan usually takes a year and includes historical research and multiple community meetings to allow residents “to talk about their aspirations for the city.” A question that will guide them in their research, she says, is “why Richmond has become the city it has become.”

The chairwoman of Richmond’s Public Art Commission, Susan Reed, and city officials say they cannot comment specifically on the selection of Goldman and Freeman because the contract hasn’t been signed. But, Reed says, among the questions the master plan should answer are: “What does Richmond want in its public art? What would work well with the city? How can we take advantage of everything we already have in the arts?“

A comprehensive plan for public arts in the city “is not only a need,” Reed says. “It’s a responsibility. It’s also a great opportunity, a springboard to even greater things.” S

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