Wednesday, September 29, 2010

UrbanArt Recent News

Hello Everyone,

I hope you are well.

I wanted to share some positive news in the programs and processes of UrbanArt that have recently taken place that we believe will improve the entire way we work in terms of project determination, artist selection, artist payments processing, and overall project completion.

First, we've added new staff! After a period of time where we had no choice but to keep staff levels low as a cost savings measure due to funding decreases related to the economic downturn over the past couple of years, we have been successful in structuring a new funding stream that shall provide for staff numbers appropriate to our projects caseload. Our projects management team is composed of Rodney Coleman, Tiena Gwin, and Whitney Ranson. They shall be administering the selection process for all projects and their production schedules and logistics. Shelley Madison has recently joined our organization as the Business Manager, and shall be coordinating all projects billing, contracts, and benchmarks confirmation, as well as internal controls and compliance matters. Whitney Washington is our Executive Intern performing a variety of tasks from research, projects promotion, and event planning. Siphne Sylve shall be acting as an ad hoc assistant on special projects.

This increase in staff is the result of a resolution approved by the City Council allowing a percentage of the Capital Improvement Projects allocations to be billed for expenses associated with projects' management. Previously, we were receiving a set sum that did not change for several years. This had the deleterious effect of causing the caseload to swell beyond capacity. With the passing of the resolution we will be able to give each project more attention from individual project managers moving forward.

Secondly, after concerted efforts by ourselves and officials within the City administration, we believe we have come to an agreement on measures that should reduce payments turnaround by as much as 1/3 of the previous time frame. Included in these changes are: setting up electronic payments of invoices to UrbanArt, weighting benchmark compensation percentages toward the front end of the project so that materials sourcing is swifter, and layering of design and fabrication invoices so that payments can potentially be parcelled in larger sums over fewer installments over the course of the project's production.

Next, we shall be condensing the selection process in a manner that builds increased levels of community engagement prior to contracting the final artist to assist smoother approvals through selection committees. Additionally, PAOC members shall be invited to attend individual selection committee meetings, and selection committees for individual projects shall be requested to attend those PAOC (Public Art Oversight Committee, responsible for program functions and projects confirmations) where their projects are to be discussed. We believe this will also streamline the process.

Regarding artist's selection, the PAOC has approved providing honorariums up to $1,500 per artist for up to 3 artists per project for design proposals. This shall be policy across the board. I will be sending an e-newsletter with additional detailed information on new selection process steps in the coming week or so. If you are not receiving our e-newsletter, please send an email to, and request to be added to the 'Constant Contact Artist Opportunities' list.

Pertaining to the amount of a project's budget recouped by individual artists for their work on a project, we've devised a system that we believe has the potential to make it where artists could consistently garner up to 20% of the entire project budget for their design fees and fabrication labor costs. Nationwide, 10-15% is considered standard. This is a new metric with new mechanics, so understand that 20% may not always be possible, but that we are working to make it the case more often than not.

Whereas the City ordinance that founded the Percent for Art program mandates 60% of those projects be completed by local artists in a 5 year period, we are now closing in on the 90% mark and believe this statistic will hold between the 80-90% level fairly consistently in the future. We still love artists based nationally and abroad, but their engagement will be more specifically targeted moving forward.

We are also formalizing a series of professional development workshops that will cover all these developments and more, to begin in the Spring that will be free of charge to all local artists and art students.

Lastly, [*for now!] whereas historically the program produced projects primarily in association with new City capital improvement building projects, we are now permitted to produce projects on any appropriate City owned property or parcel of land. For example, the 7 District Gateways currently in the midst of their selection process, and the FY11 Public Art Plan mural projects and Plough Blvd. sculpture [*RFQ's coming soon!] are all being produced in sites independent of new construction. We feel this will enable the general public increased accessibility to art throughout the city.

I greatly appreciate the encouragement, patience, and support you've all provided the organization over the years. Would you consider doing me a personal favor by assisting us in communicating the strides UrbanArt has made in its efforts to refine the processes by which large-scale public art projects are produced in Memphis? If friends or colleagues casually wonder what UrbanArt is working on, please tell them!

We fully realize there will always be room for improvement, and that other issues will occasionally arise. Please know that the task of perfecting our programs and procedures that affect the artists we work with to enhance the cultural vibrancy of our community through the development of public art is one that the UrbanArt staff, its Board of Directors, its municipal and private partners, and I personally view as a top priority. Please be patient while we put these new policies and procedures into effect.

Also, if you have a question about how something works, or a concern that an aspect of our program is not working as well as it could, please let me know. Send me an email with any quick ideas or inquiries. If you would like to know more about a specific aspect of our work or a particular process that may require detailed explanation, it may me a few days to get back to you because of our current workload, but I will get back to you. Just let me know.

The artists that make all our work worth the effort deserve the best experience possible. Our neighbors in the city and metropolitan area at large will no doubt benefit from the public art produced as a result. I look forward to seeing UrbanArt's endeavors flourish in the future and for the public art landscape of our hometown of Memphis to grow ever more dynamic because of your ongoing support.

Thank you.

Be well,

John Weeden
Executive Director
UrbanArt Commission

UrbanArt's mission is to enhance
the cultural vibrancy of our community
through the development of public art.

UrbanArt Staff

                                             Rodney Coleman

                                       Tiena Gwin

                                            Shelley Madison

                                          Whitney Ranson

                                       Siphne Sylve

                                       Whitney Washington

                                                  John Weeden

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