In a recent controversial decision, the Mammoth Town Council voted to return $138,000 in public art fees to the developer of Snowcreek. Many were upset that the Town Council decided that the landscaping and water works qualified as public art, but it turns out there was a much simpler explanation than a question of the nature of art itself. Town staff reportedly made a mistake, and the town could not justify keeping the money.
When a building project moves through the planning process, among the many fees charged by the town, the developer has to pay a fee into the public art fund or create the art themselves and get the money back in lieu of a fee.
This summer the Public Arts Commission decided that the landscaping and waterworks at Snowcreek VI were not public art and that the Town should not return the public art fee to Snowcreek. When the Town Council overruled the Arts Commission decision in July, Public Arts Commissioner Michael Bornfeld said that he and other public arts commissioners were upset by the council decision
What happened was a breakdown in communication between town staff and the Arts Commission, Bornfeld explained. By the time the Commission reviewed the project in the spring of this year, the landscaping and waterworks had already been built.
Snowcreek paid the town what they thought was an in-lieu fee incrementally between September of 2004 and September of 2005 with what appears to be the intention of using an artist to design the landscaping which could qualify the project as public art.
The first the Art Commission heard of the situation was the spring of 2009. The Arts Commission had not reviewed the design of the project and didn’t know that Snowcreek had asked for the art money back prior to the meetings this spring.
Bornfeld explained that the commission thought that Snowcreek wanted a refund when documents show that Snowcreek had always intended to ask for the money back in exchange for creating public art through the landscaping design. Making a decision well after the fact, and without full knowledge of what happened, the Arts Commission denial of the already built project would likely not have been enforceable by the town.
As for the question of whether the landscaping and waterworks actually would rise to the level of public art, Bornfeld says that had the Arts Commission reviewed the project before it was built, he believes that the Commissioners would have turned it down.