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Naperville mayor says Century Walk should get $100,000 a year to create public art

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 7/22/2021 Suzanne Baker, Naperville Sun, Ill.

Jul. 22—Century Walk would be guaranteed at least $150,000 a year to curate and maintain public art in the city over the next three years under a plan suggested by Mayor Steve Chirico this week.

At Tuesday's Naperville City Council meeting, Chirico said he wants Century Walk to be included for the next three years as a city obligation, similar to what's done with Naper Settlement, Naperville Municipal Band and the DuPage Children's Museum.

Each year the city distributes revenue generated from the city's 1% tax on food and beverages through the Special Events and Cultural Amenities Commission. While most organizations must apply for SECA money each year in the fall, those deemed city obligations are guaranteed funding.

Century Walk already receives $50,000 annually as an obligation to maintain public art. Chirico proposed adding another $100,000, which would be earmarked for public art placed on public property.

Other caveats suggested by the mayor include ending the annual contribution to Century Walk in three years, requiring a City Council liaison be assigned to the Century Walk board, and asking the group to provide an audited annual financial statement.

Century Walk approached the council in March asking for a guaranteed $150,000 on top of its $50,000 obligation.

John Gallagher, a committee member with the organization, told the council public art cannot survive on the inconsistent funding it's had over the last five years.

The council at the time voted 6-3 to table a final decision until details of how the arrangement would be structured was hashed out between the organization, city staff, members of the SECA Commission and a public art task force under SECA's auspices.

Chirico, who was among those who voted to table the idea, said he wanted to wait 62 days before broaching the subject again.

The mayor's request was met by some pushback from three council members, who questioned why he wasn't waiting for the recommendation from a task force studying public art funding before making his proposal.

Councilwoman Theresa Sullivan asked about oversight of the money, whether unused allocations can be carried over to the next year and if the public will have input in the process.

Chirico said the council liaison and audited reports would provide the transparency. He added that art projects often take multiple years and any unused amount should be carried forward to the next year.

In terms of public input, Chirico said it's a reasonable request to have the Century Walk board involve an inclusive group of people.

Councilman Patrick Kelly said the city is on the threshold of having a recommendation from the task force and the SECA Commission.

"Why would we try to preempt that by two months? It doesn't make a lot of sense there," Kelly said. "I think it's no secret that public art has been a little bit of a contentious issue, and I think trying to rush that process."

He said he'd prefer the process play out so there's more of an opportunity for council consensus, rather than a split vote.

Councilman Ian Holzhauer said Century Walk has provided many statues and murals that honor Naperville's history, and there's no question long-range planning is needed to maintain the collection.

"But by the same token, long-range planning ― particularly planning that's funded with taxpayer money ― requires careful attention to detail," he said. "In our enthusiasm to support art, I worry that we are bypassing a process. This is a process that City Council directed staff and a relevant city commission to undertake."

Holzhauer said he expects the commission would put together recommendations that will include oversight and budget safeguards for making sure money is spent on relevant projects.

"I haven't heard a compelling reason to not at least review the recommendations of this commission, which should be out this fall, before taking a vote," he said.

subaker@tribpub.com

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