Will Vail kill the arts?
By Robert Kelly-GossVail’s Art in Public Places (AIPP) coordinator, Leslie Fickling, sits in her back office at the town’s public works building 30 hours a week, pulling together and executing ideas that might complement the world-class resort community’s alpine ambience.They are projects that, just as in many communities, incorporate art into the public landscape. And like many communities, they are projects that are being threatened by budget cuts due to hard economic times.Shaky finances make for unpopular decisions when it comes to municipal budgets. So the arts may be taking a hit Tuesday, April 1, when outgoing Town Manager Bob McLaurin recommends the town council cut back on AIPP’s coordinator position."The AIPP position is proposed to go to half time with no benefits from 30 to 20 hours a week and that would save us about $12,000 to $15,000," says McLaurin. "But the AIPP board indicated that would kill the program."By cutting Fickling’s hours back, McLaurin says the ad hoc board is concerned there would be less time to implement projects that could be funded by money coming from sources other than town coffers. Outgoing AIPP board chairwoman Kathy Langenwalter says she and other board members would prefer to slice that money directly from AIPP’s budget rather than scaling back Fickling’s hours."Art in Public Places can be so many things," Langenwalter says. "It can be a large project or a small project. Working on small projects has been our focus, and having a coordinator at 30 hours a week helps facilitate those projects."So by keeping Fickling at 30 hours and cutting back the budget, Langenwalter says AIPP would have the ability to seek outside funding for projects."Cutting Leslie to 20 hours a week would create a problem," Langenwalter says.For the past several years Fickling has been coordinating public art projects for the Town of Vail, first as a consultant and later a town employee. Her efforts have facilitated projects ranging from wildlife murals in the Vail Village Parking Structure to a summer sculpture exhibition in Ford Park. Current projects include a carved wooden tribute to ultra runner Lyndon Ellefson at West Vail’s Ellefson Park pavilion and the Donovan Park fence and play area.Public reaction to past and current projects appears to be positive."Lot’s of people call to say how much they like what we’re doing," Fickling says.Even the once controversial sculpted tribute to Vail founder Pete Seibert at Seibert Circle has become an accepted fixture in the village landscape.The organic, functional ring of large sculpted stones at the top of Bridge Street was commissioned by the town from internationally acclaimed sculptor Jesus Morales. The artwork was so abstract that Seibert himself was a bit bothered by the work. However, Fickling says it’s good to see Vail’s guests interacting with the stones – people resting or children playing on the pieces – and that speaks to the project’s success.People in communities where public art is paid for by public funds traditionally question the wisdom of such programs. In a resort community such as Vail, Fickling and the AIPP board’s Langenwalter agree that wisdom in this case should err on the side of public art."I think that in Vail we need to have a competitive edge, and I think that art is one thing that brings people to the community and brings people back to the community," Langenwalter says, echoing Fickling’s philosophy.So on April 1, when McLaurin recommends to the council that Fickling’s hours be scaled back, citing a long-term savings for the town’s budget, he would also consider standing behind the AIPP board’s proposal to keep her hours intact and cut from the program’s budget, but only if the board can show that it can find alternative funding for future programs. He says he also believes the council would consider such an alternative."I think it’s worth discussing," McLaurin says. "If they (AIPP) can bring in outside funds, that could work."Langenwalter and Fickling say outside funding such as foundation grants can be obtained by the board for future projects, leaving public funds within the town budget. The problem, according to Langenwalter, is that cutting Fickling’s hours would diminish the time required to research and obtain that funding.