Council reviewing legislation for Art Commission, District


PORTSMOUTH — Portsmouth City Council is eying two pieces of legislation to boost the city’s public arts scene, moves promoted by 2nd Ward Councilwoman Charlotte Gordon and 5th Ward Councilman Edwin Martell.

Council will review the creation of an Art Commission and Art, Culture, and Innovation District during its session Monday, Oct. 12. Both Gordon and Martell see these pieces as opportunities to transform the city.

“With art, we can really beautify public spaces in our town that pretty much need a makeover,” said Martell, who has promoted the commission since its beginnings.

“Public art, unlike anything else, has the power to change a space and to charge a space,” added Gordon. “It can make something that is uninviting seem much more exciting and inviting.”

Going into its third reading, the commission would be composed of six appointed citizens of each ward along with one selected Councilperson, acting as a liaison between the board and city government.

Inspired by the Over-the-Rhine public art scene in Cincinnati, Martell believes the commission could create a real buzz around the arts and encourage expression from local artists and the youth.

“We talk about beautifying our city, with art, that’s one way of beautifying our city,” said Martell. “You can turn something that is derelcit into something that’s beautiful, a piece of art.”

He said one of the commission’s most important responsibilities would be the upkeep and renovation of the city’s floodwall stars, which denote the most important difference-makers of Portsmouth.

It has come time, he says, to account for a wider and more diverse base of these important figures in the city’s past and present, which should include members of the LGBTQ, African American and Hispanic communities.

“When you talk about people who have done great things for our community, the list is tremendous, but we only see a select few people up on that wall,” said Martell. “I would like to see more of a diverse culture because, let’s face it, there have been plenty of people who have done great things here who have been long forgotten about.”

Already an active member of the arts community as the Southern Ohio Museum Artistic Director, Gordon believes the success of the floodwall murals and the Boneyfiddle Commerical District could be replicated through this district.

The legislation will hear its first reading Monday, after City Manager Sam Sutherland requested Council to place it on their agenda during the City Managers’ meeting on Sept. 28.

As currently proposed, the boundaries for the art district would be Washington Street to the west, seventh Street to the north, Waller Street to the east, and Shawnee State University to the south. Gordon said museums and art studios, such as the Innovation Hub and the Roy Rogers Museum, within the zone have already voiced their support and 1st Ward Councilman Sean Dunne saw this as a great opportunity for both the public and private sectors.

Although some of have suggested that the western border be changed to include Market Street and the children’s museum under construction, Gordon said she wants to build a different atmosphere for the news district.

“Boneyfiddle is established and it’s been really exciting to see that get established and to state itself,” said Gordon. “People are now looking for new places to go into, to continue that energy.”

She does not foresee any costs attached to the implementation of the district, but hopes for further real estate development and filling of empty lots as a result. Open houses and workshops hosted by art shops could lead more locals to stay-in-town and attract tourists as the floodwalls murals have, she feels.

“I think a lot of people feel like they have to leave town to go see a live arts scene,” said Gordon. “Cultivating that in-town would be really fabulous.”

Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at pkeck@aimmediamidwest.com, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.© 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.