Sculpture plans move forward

Published 9:49 am Thursday, November 21, 2013

JACKSON – Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

If that’s the case, then a plan to erect a 6’-4” sculpture on county-owned property that salutes Northampton’s agricultural past, present and future will move forward with the blessings of the county’s Cultural Arts Committee.

And with the fact that this committee is the one proposing a plan for the sculpture – “Man and a Plow” – to be placed near the main entrance of the Northampton County Cultural and Wellness Center, it’s a safe bet that it will happen.

At the Oct. 7 meeting of the county’s Board of Commissioners, Judy Collier, chairperson of the Northampton County Cultural Arts Committee, presented the plan to the commissioners. She told the board that the sculpture will be of no cost to the county; funded by a Grassroots Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council and through private funding.

Collier said the Cultural Arts Committee has commissioned   Cathy McInville, who owns and operates Conway Studio Works, to create the sculpture. That piece of artwork, constructed of steel rebar wrapped in copper wire, depicts a man, with a hat in his left hand, wiping the sweat from his brow while standing behind a farm plow, thus paying tribute to Northampton’s agricultural heritage.

While the commissioners were openly receptive to the idea of permitting this particular sculpture to be erected, they expressed concern over the lack of a local policy that allows the display of artwork on county-owned property, and the message those works of art may carry.

“(Without a policy) we cannot control what type of message these statues, sculptures may display; what we want it to say about our county,” said Commission Vice-Chair Virginia Spruill at the October meeting. “I think we need to have a policy in place before we start erecting a statue…..where they’re going to be located, how they are going to look, what message they will be depicting, everything; that’s my opinion,” Spruill added.

At the end of the discussion, a decision was made to form a committee to develop and bring back a policy to the commissioners for their review and approval for this statue at the Cultural and Wellness Center and other statues, sculptures, plaques or artistic items moving forward planned for county-owned property.

It now appears there is no need for a special committee, based on the research of Northampton County Manager Ken Creque.

At the commissioners’ meeting earlier this month, Creque noted that the Cultural Arts Committee is responsible for screening plans which involve the placement of artwork of any type on county-owned property and then informing the commissioners if they are in favor or oppose the display of such artwork in a public place.

“My observations and recommendations, based on generally accepted practices, are that the Northampton County Cultural Arts Committee generally follows the best practices in determining projects to be displayed,” Creque said, while also reminding the commissioners that they appoint members to the county’s Cultural Arts Committee.

“As such, this committee is an appropriate body to make recommendations as to what to present to the Northampton County Board of Commissioners as far as acceptable art projects for public grounds; similar in manner as the Northampton County Planning Board makes recommendations to you concerning zoning,” Creque added.

The county manager noted that there are reasonable safe guards in place to insure that the Northampton County Board of Commissioners as well as Northampton County staff’s opinions are heard and considered with every Cultural Arts Committee action.

“The situation presented to the Northampton County Board of Commissioners is subjective and not objective and therefore, as previously discussed, difficult to quantify,” Creque said. “When making a choice about art to be exhibited, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners can take into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the Northampton County public as determined by the subjective opinion of individual members of the commissioners at the time the piece of art is presented to the board for acceptance.”

Creque continued, “As far as process or the creation of an additional committee, I do not believe another committee is necessary. The commissioners can appoint members to the Cultural Arts Committee whose beliefs and values are in line more with the community standards. However, the commissioners have the final approval or disapproval authority concerning what may or may not be exhibited on county property.”

Creque recommended two additional procedural items to the Cultural Arts Committee for their consideration to adopt: (1) They create a “Project Cover Sheet” based upon an 11-step planning process. The propose of the cover sheet is to insure projects follow generally accepted best practices and document what was done to meet this standard. This will be presented to the Board of Commissioners when future pieces of art are proposed to be exhibited on county property. (2)  Work with the County Attorney’s office to develop an appropriate document to waive the artists moral rights, and to insure the best interests of the county are safe guarded.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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