Editorial: Local preference

A truly outstanding Lawrence arts corridor would include the best work of artists from both Lawrence and elsewhere.

Work by Lawrence artists absolutely should be part of the proposed arts corridor on East Ninth Street.

In all likelihood, an open competition among artists from Lawrence and elsewhere would produce that result. To make sure that happens, however, a group of community members are urging the Lawrence City Commission to require that half of the public artwork in the corridor be the work of Lawrence artists. The group further specifies that half of the Lawrence artwork be produced by residents of East Lawrence.

Perhaps some provision should be included to ensure the presence of local artwork, but it would be wrong to make the selection process so restrictive that artists from outside Lawrence don’t think their work will receive fair consideration. As the city’s new director of arts and culture told commissioners, “The selection process really is quite sacred.” If the city puts out a call for art projects that specifically says the competition will favor local artists, “you will have a lot of artists that won’t even bother applying.”

That would be a shame. Lawrence has many excellent artists whose work is prominently displayed throughout the city, but it also has some wonderful pieces (the lovely “Flame” outside City Hall comes to mind) created by artists from outside the area. Many proud local artists probably would prefer to have their work judged against that of artists throughout the country or even the world. If the city wants to ensure the presence of local art in the corridor, perhaps it could have one open competition and a separate competition specifically for artists in Lawrence. We can’t think of another local art competition that was restricted to residents of a specific Lawrence neighborhood, but maybe this particular project also should accommodate that subgroup.

The East Ninth project has attracted its share of Lawrence-style controversy. It’s great that local people want to promote local artists as part of this project, but that shouldn’t include restrictions that discourage consideration of the best of the best from artists outside of Lawrence.