NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Public Arts Commission is trying to get a handle on its email communications.
Commissioner Gail Sellers asked that the issue be placed on the agenda at last week's meeting after learning someone had been trying to obtain information using the commission's email address but had not gotten any responses.
The individual, Joseph Smith, had contacted Sellers when his query was answered Oct. 18 by Chairwoman Julia Dixon, who wrote that she had not been checking the email regularly.
"I was very concerned that we would be having conversations of this type that we would not be aware of," Sellers said last Monday. "The Public Arts Commission has an email but I don't remember if we had discussion of how we could find out about who could access the emails."
She said she was upset that Smith had apparently been in contact with the mayor, the City Council president, and city solicitor but the commission was just learning about these contacts now.
Vice Chairwoman Erica Manville said there had not been much in the way of email during her time as chairman but believed that had picked up since Dixon, who was not present, had taken the leadership. The commission is only a couple years old and is only beginning to advance its mission of coordinating public art installations.
"We have to understand that some of them are not pertinent," she said.
Commissioner Cynthia Quiñones, the secretary, suggested an automated response that would direct inquiries on applications and general information to the commission's web site and state someone would get back to them if necessary within 48 hours so people would not expect immediate responses.
The letters could also be part of the regular agenda so all commissioners would know about any communications, she said.
Sellers, however, said she was "angry and upset," feeling that Dixon's response to Smith that she had been busy with a work assignment was unprofessional.
"This person feels like they're not being listened to," she said. "Whether we answer his questions specifically is not up to Julia."
Commissioner Nancy Ziter agreed that the response wasn't appropriate and thought email questions should be responded to within 48 hours.
[The emails] should go to the chair," she said. "With Mr. Smith, what might have happened is [to say] 'I appreciate your concern. We will put it on our agenda for our next meeting. "
Smith's emails have centered on the controversial move by Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to paint over the columns under the Veterans Memorial Bridge. The columns had featured reproductions of Arnold Print Works patterns and individuals from Lewis Hine's photographs of mill children. The project had been done by local artists and school children through Art About Town.
"I responded and thanked him for bringing it to my attention and said I'd put it on the agenda," Sellers said. "I feel like we've been dumped on and I don't think we had the experience to deal with the columns."
She said she wanted to appease his frustration but that he is a strong advocate to restore the children's work on the columns.
Both Mass MoCA and the arts group had been permission for their work by two different mayors prior to the commission's establishment. The crux has been MoCA's stance that since its permission had been given nearly 20 years ago, it trumped the more recent work. The museum painted over the columns as a "restoration" of the "Harmonic Bridge" sound installation for the opening of Building 6 this past spring.
The commission's position — although not a unanimous one — is that it will not take sides because neither organization has a contract spelling out its rights.
Quiñones said the conversation was getting away from the agenda item, which what to do with emails.
Commissioner William Blackmer noted that some of the questions, such as legalities, were not within the commission's ability to answer.
"I think it's the courtesy more than the answers," Quiñones said.
The commission determined to ask Dixon to set up an automated response about getting back to any queries within 48 hours, then follow up with a simple answer or affirmation that it will be brought up at the next meeting and invite the person to attend.
They also decided to put Smith's original questions emailed to the commission, not the back and forth, on the November agenda. Sellers was tasked with getting his initial questions.
"This seems to be something that should go to the city solicitor to ask what we need to do," Ziter said.
The commission was also irritated that Mass MoCA had still not sent contracts for the light installation recently removed from Notre Dame Church.
The commission also was updated that Griffin Labbance's project to paint on Montana Street has changed considerably and will no longer be on city property; decided to direct Ramona Fabregas to organizations that could help her prayer flag project; again postponed discussion on the Eagle Street Initiative for lack of information; and that someone would attend a meeting on the city's cultural district plan.
Quiñones asked that a member step up by December to replace her as secretary; because of personal reasons, she anticipated missing several meetings in the coming year.
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