The San Luis Obispo City Council walked back its proposed ban on public art of individual people on Jan. 21, reversing the stance it took six months ago amid controversy over plans for a Theodore Roosevelt statue in Mitchell Park.
Instead, the City Council voted 4-0, with Mayor Heidi Harmon absent, to continue its policy of reviewing public art projects on "a case-by-case basis."
- File Photos By Jayson Mellom
- ALL ART WELCOME The SLO City Council walked back a policy to ban public art of individual people on Jan. 21, a rule that would've thwarted a Theodore Roosevelt statue proposal.
Council members who had previously supported the ban said that community feedback in the ensuing weeks and months caused them to rethink the policy.
"We missed the mark," Vice Mayor Aaron Gomez said. "I'm more than happy to change that trajectory we were going on."
Councilmember Andy Pease, who originally supported the ban, told New Times that local residents made "eloquent arguments" about the value of having a debate about art, whether it's art depicting specific people, movements, or ideas.
"Within a couple weeks ... I realized that was a fundamentally flawed approach, to ban statues of people altogether," Pease said. "We need to decide that case by case."
While the council members agreed to stick with SLO's current policy on public art, a majority warned that they remained opposed to a statue of Roosevelt.
Proposed by a citizen group in 2017, the Roosevelt project was pitched as a tribute to the 26th president's 1903 stop in SLO during a tour of the West.
The project committee, led by former City Councilmember John Ashbaugh, raised about $50,000 for the cause before opposition formed. Opponents, which include local native tribal groups, denounced Roosevelt's views and policies toward Native Americans.
Carlyn Christianson—the lone council member to oppose the ban back when it was proposed—called the policy "a terrible idea," but also reiterated her reservations about a Roosevelt statue.
"It's the dumbest thing I ever heard of," Christianson said about the nearly adopted policy. "I still don't support, absent further discussion, a statue of a former president on public land." Δ