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Parks Commission nixes public art fee

Recommendation goes to City Council

WATSONVILLE—The Parks and Recreation Commission on Monday recommended Watsonville City Council turn down a $200 processing fee for murals and other public art.

The fee would be used to defray the cost of city staff preparing reports on proposed public art for presentation to the commission, which has final say on art allowed in public spaces.

The commissioners, however, unanimously voted against the charge, saying that it would discourage artists from pursuing much-needed public art projects around the city.

“I think we should reduce as many barriers as possible to make the project happen,” said commissioner Brando Sencion. “There’s two barriers, right? The $200 fee, which some people may have and others may not, and then there’s also getting the approval [from the commission]. That doesn’t mean we would reject everything, but the first [barrier] would be a rejection to many. They would silently not do it.

“Art is a public good.”

That recommendation will now go to the council.

Monday was the third time commissioners discussed the fee.

The council OK’d guidelines for the approval process of public art — officially called the Public Art Program Community Initiated Public Guidelines — in July, but sent the processing fee to the commission for further deliberation.

The fee initially came to the commission in early August but was tabled for further discussion.

The commission reconvened in mid-September but the topic was pushed again to Monday night’s meeting after commissioner Paul De Worken recused himself, causing a lack of quorum.

De Worken, a local artist and muralist, on Monday said he talked to a representative from the California Fair Political Practices Commission before the meeting who told him he did not need to recuse himself from the discussion or vote.

“I have to choose my words carefully,” De Worken said.

The City of Watsonville had been without an approving body for public art projects since 2012 before the council approved the guidelines in July.

The guidelines set a new structure for the approval of art projects in the city. Anyone looking to create a mural or other public art would have to apply to Parks and Community Services, and then the Parks and Recreation Commission would serve as the approving body.

Any appeals of decisions from the commission would be sent to the council.

The guidelines will be implemented in two phases. The first phase, already in action, will cover community-initiated public art projects, and the second would cover art projects initiated by the City.

A handful of community members spoke against the fee Monday.

Gabriel Medina, a local filmmaker and senior program manager for Digital Nest, said the fee would impede aspiring artists that call Watsonville home.

“As artists, as brown artists, as [people of color] artists, we’re not funded like other established artists are,” Medina said.

Hannah Garcia, the grants program manager for the Arts Council Santa Cruz County (ACSCC), said no other community in the county charges a processing fee for public art.

“A lot of other jurisdictions pay artists and invest in artists for public works projects,” said Garcia, who added that most jurisdictions match the ACSCC’s grant funding to fully fund projects.

Watsonville’s senior administrative analyst Adriana Flores said the City does not have the financial capability to pay artists as neighboring jurisdictions do.

“The City of Watsonville is not at that point yet,” Flores said.

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Also on Monday, the commission unanimously approved a public art project at Watsonville’s Santa Cruz METRO station on Rodriguez Street.

Titled “Community,” the mural from De Worken will expand upon already existing art at the station.

De Worken said he tried to incorporate multiple aspects of Watsonville’s diverse community by talking to several residents, including those of Portuguese and Native American descent.

De Worken abstained from the vote.

The mural is expected to last between 20-25 years.

Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez
Managing Editor Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor for five years before entering his current role in 2019. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus, he covers the city, business, housing, entertainment and more.

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