City of St. Joseph puts public art project on hiatus; some people upset
ST. JOSEPH, Mich. — It’s the first summer in more than 15 years tourists and locals won’t find public art in downtown St. Joseph.
In a recent Facebook posted by St. Joseph Public Art, comments show people are disappointed by the decision.
Coloma mother and wife, Kathy Rennhack, is one of those people.
“There’s this bit of sadness about not having any public art,” said Rennhack.
Rennhack says her family visited St. Joseph at least once every two weeks to look at and take pictures with the art.
Her family enjoyed seeing what their neighbors created. Rennhack’s husband even built a few pieces himself.
“It’s an opportunity to bring maybe some of the local people in who wouldn’t necessarily, from the surrounding communities, who wouldn’t make it a point to come down and engage with the local community,” said Rennhack. “It’s such a fun and a neat and a novel program. What is to stop someone like a Michigan City or a South Haven from coming in and saying, ‘Ok St. Joe is not going to do it, they had such great success with it, now we’re going to bring it to our area.’”
Rennhack says without the public art, her family will not visit St. Joe as frequently as they used to.
“It opened up a whole new door for us to talk to our kids about different artists and different genres,” said Rennhack. “In the summertime there are a lot of tourists that come to the area and for us, the art was a way to get down here and to kind of say, ‘Yeah there’s a lot of tourists down here, but we’re coming down to see the art.’ There’s just not that pull to get us down here anymore.”
City commissioners voted to put the public art project on a one year hiatus last August.
The decision came after the city received a letter from Susan Solon, the city’s former communications director who also started and ran the public art project.
In the letter, Solon wrote that while the project will be missed by many, it’s her opinion that it fulfilled its purpose.
City manager John Hodgson said the project started in 2004 to attract people downtown and fill empty storefronts. Sixteen years later, people can find a bustling State Street.
Hodgson added the city is completing its downtown master plan this summer. He said commissioners thought a one-year break while completing the study would be a good opportunity to assess the health of the downtown area and evaluate if the program still benefited the town economically.
“Taking this hiatus doesn’t mean there will never be a downtown art project,” said Hodgson. “There may be. There may be something that strikes folks as a more beneficial art project to do, perhaps at a better time. In our summer were already very busy, perhaps a public art project in one of the shoulder seasons, the spring, the winter, the fall might help to drive more folks to the area and give us more of a year round downtown.”
Hodgson said one of the ways the city can measure if the program is still beneficial is if people fill out the master plan public survey.
Click here to take it.