Program that would involve local artists in East Ninth Project looking for applicants

A westward view shows Ninth Street as it stretches toward downtown Lawrence.

With no applicants as of yet and a little less than a week to go before the Monday deadline, East Ninth Project officials have a frustrating situation on their hands with the project’s newly conceived associate artist program, said Porter Arneill, the Lawrence director of arts and culture, on Tuesday.

Yet, despite the uncertainty, Arneill said he remains hopeful about the status of the program, which would select at least three local artists to work alongside panel-selected artists in the East Ninth Project’s commissioned opportunities.

“My experience is, these things don’t show up until the last minute,” said Porter, who also hinted at the possibility of re-issuing the call for artists. “There’s a bit of a learning curve here in the sense that I don’t know if this has ever been done before. I think maybe artists are having trouble wrapping their minds around it.”

Commissioned projects

There are three planned commissioned installations as part of the East Ninth Project:

East Ninth Artists:
Up to four artists will be selected in the fields of filmmaking, visual art, photography and music who will work to build a reciprocal relationship with Lawrence residents and create works of art around that exchange to be installed publicly on East Ninth Street.

Integrated Artists: Up to three artists will be selected to explore one of three topics — lighting, public gathering space, and movement — and create works inspired by East Ninth Street and Lawrence.

“Try It Out” event: Up to six “talents” will be selected to participate in a public event on Ninth Street to illustrate how the East Ninth corridor can be used by artists and performers.

The associate artist program, which was introduced in the project’s Citizen Advisory Committee meeting last month, arrives on the heels of long-standing concerns from some East Lawrence residents and community members about the involvement — or lack thereof — of local artists in the East Ninth Project.

Arneill said the program would address those worries (the application is open to Douglas County residents only) while providing opportunities for less-established artists.

It’s a new concept to Arneill, who served as the director and public art administrator for Kansas City’s Municipal Art Commission for more than a decade before taking on his current position in Lawrence earlier this year.

“I had this as a young artist — it’s a classic Catch-22 of, ‘I need experience to be selected as a public artist, but how do I get the experience in order to be selected?'” said Arneill, adding that public art, with its involvement of city officials, architects and engineers, presents a unique set of challenges for artists who may be more accustomed to doing things solo. “This is an opportunity to work alongside artists who have more experience and gain more understanding of what it’s like to work in public art.”

Arneill also said the program offers a chance for veteran artists to “hone their skills or work in a different capacity” without committing to the larger commissioned projects.

While still in its beginning stages, the program — and its selection process — won’t involve as much scrutiny as the original East Ninth Project call for artists.

That call, or RFQ, had a strong turnout from local artists for three commissioned projects. In the case of East Ninth Artists, which focuses on the cultural history of East Lawrence, there were nine applicants, all of whom are from the Lawrence area. The second major commission, Integrated Art Collaboration, drew 13 applicants, about half of whom are local. A third commissioned opportunity, Try it Out, only received two applicants for the up to six artists they were seeking — Arneill said he may re-issue a call for that project as well.

Lead artists will be selected via a panel of Citizen Advisory Committee members; the chosen artists will then get the chance to help select their associates from the pool of local applicants, Arneill said. Once selected, the lead artists will work with the project’s design team to create a vision for the East Ninth Project.

Call for artists

Those interested in applying to the East Ninth Project’s associate artist program can access the RFQ online at the city’s website. Submissions are due Monday at 4 p.m.

After a portfolio review Tuesday, Arneill and other project officials have narrowed the lead-artist candidates down to six for each commissioned opportunity. Interviews will begin Friday at the Lawrence Arts Center — though as of Tuesday, Arneill said the location may change to City Hall — and a decision should immediately follow, Arneill said.

“There won’t be proposals — that’s the unique thing here,” he said. “In this case, we’re doing what is becoming more popular. It’s more of a job interview process.”

A total of $15,000 has been set aside for the program, which could be split evenly between the associate artists or divvied up according to each commissioned project’s budget. It will depend on what the lead artists have in mind, Arneill said.

“Until we know what people are looking for and what their ideas are, it’s difficult to see how this will play out,” Arneill said. “It’ll be interesting to see who responds.”

Applications for the associate artist program are due Aug. 3. In addition to the Citizen Advisory Committee’s monthly meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, project officials will host artist interviews from roughly 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday. Both meetings are open to the public.

Other East Ninth Project items on the agenda

The East Ninth Project’s amended work plan was slated for review at this week’s Lawrence City Commission meeting, but because of new language introduced by Commissioner Leslie Soden, it will be revisited at the commission’s Aug. 4 meeting instead, Arneill said.

Addressing concerns of the street being turned into a bustling “entertainment district” that could potentially diminish the neighborhood’s “rich, cultural history,” the newest draft does not call for future redevelopment/rezoning plans for surrounding or adjacent properties.

The revised language describes a project that “seeks to become a vital, public street that sensitively and artfully engages each block from Massachusetts Street to Delaware Street — a cultural asset for East Lawrence and the City of Lawrence alike.”

City commissioners were also set to consider authorizing the interim city manager to execute an agreement with the Lawrence Arts Center regarding the commitment of $50,000 from the Lawrence Arts Center toward the city’s service contract with el dorado, inc. The agreement would also establish expectations for handling the agreements with artists regarding the project. That issue has also been pushed back to the Aug. 4 meeting.