City moves forward on creating new director of arts and culture position

The paint is not entirely dry on the canvas, but city commissioners Tuesday night largely committed themselves to fund a new $75,000 per year City Hall position to oversee arts and cultural activities.

On a 4-1 vote, commissioners at their weekly meeting agreed to apply for a state grant to help with the start-up costs of the position. But a majority of commissioners also said they likely would add the position by mid-2014 regardless of whether the city receives the grant.

“I think what we’re doing tonight is more than just funding a position,” City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said. “I think it is saying to other grant-funders across the country that the arts are important to us as a community.”

The new position — which would be part of the city manager’s office — would be responsible for overseeing and coordinating events and marketing efforts for arts and cultural activities. Commissioners and members of the city’s Cultural Arts Commission expressed optimism that the position would help boost the city’s standing as an arts-based tourist destination.

City Commissioner Mike Amyx voted against the proposal because he thought it should have been considered during the 2015 budget process, where it could have been ranked against all other projects that were seeking funds. The budget process doesn’t take place until the summer, but the application deadline for a Kansas Department of Commerce grant is in early February.

The state grant could provide up to $75,000 in one-time funding. In addition to $75,000 in salary and benefits for the position, the program is expected to have another $60,000 in start-up costs related to creating a cultural arts plan and funding for marketing efforts. Lawrence-based Callahan Creek, an advertising and marketing firm, also has offered to donate $100,000 in design services to help with the marketing efforts.

Susan Tate, director of the Lawrence Arts Center, said the new position also will improve the city’s chances at winning other arts-based grants. She said the city last year finished second for a $500,000 private grant, and the award committee said one of its reasons for bypassing Lawrence was because city government wasn’t involved enough in the planning for arts and culture.

In other news, commissioners on Tuesday unanimously:

• Finalized a $995,000 contract to purchase a new site for the city’s solid waste division and its storage yard for trash trucks. The approximately 11-acre site is at 2201 Kresge Road, which is in the industrial area just north of the Kansas Turnpike.

• Agreed to complete the eminent domain process for the dilapidated house and property at 1106 Rhode Island St. The city will pay $114,500 to the Barland estate for the property, which then will be offered to developers who are willing to rehabilitate the late 1800s home.

• Approved a plan that will temporarily close both lanes of New Hampshire Street from Ninth Street to the mid-block crosswalk in front of the Lawrence Arts Center. The lane closures will be through March 31, and will accommodate a construction crane for the adjacent multistory hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire.