September 7, 2018

City Forms Public Arts Commission

Local artists added some color to town this summer by painting murals on vacant uptown storefront windows.

The project was the work of the newly formed Public Arts Commission of Oxford (PACO) in conjunction with Enjoy Oxford, a promotional arm of the city visitor’s bureau. Jessica Greene, executive director of Enjoy Oxford, enlists local artists to paint colorful murals on the windows. For the current set of summer-inspired murals, five of the nine artists who applied completed the paintings; each was paid a stipend of between $150 and $350 per window, depending on how many each artist did. The artists were Alyse Capaccio, Katy Abbott, Amy Bartel, Callie McGargish and Liz Krehbiel.

A hummingbird painted by Amy Bartel decorates the empty window of Follett's Miami Co-Op Bookstore. Photograph by Julia Arwine

“We were like, what can do that’s low-cost and short-term but still gets rid of some blight in our community?” Greene said about the community beautification project.

Greene wants to paint the windows on a seasonal basis, and plans to accept applications in November for round two. This will continue until, she hopes, the vacant storefronts are filled.

Greene worked with the members of PACO before it was officially established, and now the group will help choose the artists for future iterations of the project, as well as the artwork to put on each window. While Greene works out the logistics, PACO plays a more active role in the creative side of things.

Liz Krehbiel, Cassidy Edwards and Rhonda Krehbiel's painting in Follett's Miami Co-Op Bookstore. Photograph by Julia Arwine

PACO was formed this past June and had its first meeting on July 30.

Edna Southard, City Council representative on the commission and one of its founding members, has always had the expansion of Oxford as a cultural nexus in her platform. For about a year, she has met informally with several other Oxford citizens excited about bringing more art to Oxford, some of whom now sit on the official commission. One such member is artist Joe Prescher, who joined the cause of making Oxford a more artful place after approaching the mayor about painting a mural Uptown.

The Oxford city website states that PACO’s mission is “to develop a plan for the promotion of public art in the City, to make recommendations to the City Manager and to City Council on the implementation of public art in the City and to identify funding sources for public art.”

Although the commission is only just starting its work, Southard and the other members  have lots of ideas for how to bring more public art to Oxford and make the city a more vibrant place, involving both residents and students.

Some of these ideas include erecting sculptures throughout the city, installing creatively designed benches, allowing chalk art on city sidewalks and painting murals on the walls of public buildings such as the new municipal building, the renovated old municipal center and the upcoming aquatics center, as well as at the AmTrak train platform the city is considering building.

“The goal of this thing is to beautify the city, to enhance the city, to enrich [the city],” Southard said.

Southard also expressed a desire to possibly get the Kinetics Festival running again. The festival was an exhibition of moving art that occurred annually until a few years ago, when funds ran out. It featured interactive art and people-powered propulsion, from creative bikes to unicycles to couches on wheels. It was sponsored by a variety of grants and awards, but ultimately outgrew its infrastructure. With PACO’s guidance, it could return in the future.

Flowers painted by Amy Bartel in the window of Follett's Miami Co-Op Bookstore. Photograph by Julia Arwine

Another part of PACO’s responsibilities is to look into various sources to fund its creative projects. Options include using grant money from national programs like the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), or using private sources.

So far, the window art Uptown has been well received, and Southard is of the opinion that PACO is meeting a public need.

“I think there are a lot of talented people [in Oxford],” Southard said. “How big is the arts community? I think it’s bigger than we think.”