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June 22, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Menlo Park: Official seeks rebirth of arts commission Menlo Park: Official seeks rebirth of arts commission (June 22, 2005)

By Rebecca Wallace

Almanac Staff Writer

The idea of bringing Menlo Park's city Arts Commission back to life has found a champion: Councilman Andy Cohen.

"I don't place any blame anywhere, but I think that it's caused some sense of loss in the city," Mr. Cohen told the Almanac about the commission's hiatus status, which came to pass last fall when all seven commissioners resigned.

The residents were protesting the council's decision to repeal the city's public art law, which required some developers to pay a percentage of project costs to pay for artwork on their site.

Mr. Cohen said at the June 14 council meeting that he has no intention of trying to bring back the law "or anything like that." Rather, he said later, he feels it's crucial for a city to have a citizens' group to promote the arts through classes, exhibits and other programs.

The rest of the council agreed to discuss the matter of resurrecting the commission at a later meeting.

Councilman Nicholas Jellins noted: "We didn't disband the Arts Commission. They resigned en masse." He added, "Let's have further discussion of the proper role of the commission."

In last September's vote to repeal the public art law, Mr. Jellins voted with former councilman Chuck Kinney not to repeal it. Mickie Winkler, Lee Duboc and former councilman Paul Collacchi were in the majority.

Mr. Cohen and Kelly Fergusson were elected in November.

The law had drawn opposition from some business people who said it was unfair to force them to pay for art on their property that they didn't want. Defenders, though, said the ordinance was a way to bring creativity and distinction to Menlo Park.

Mr. Cohen, who paints local landscape scenes in oil and watercolor, said he's taken many art classes on the Peninsula but that Menlo Park doesn't have as many options as neighboring cities. An Arts Commission could organize more city-run classes, in painting, music, poetry and drama, he said.

In addition, the commission could supplement the city's summer concerts in Fremont Park with shows of works by local artists, he added.

"I think the set-up required would not be that burdensome and that expensive," he said.

To have a commission, of course, you also need members. There's already at least one volunteer: Menlo Park resident Heidi Lubin, who has been talking with Mr. Cohen and says she'd be thrilled to help the commission get restarted.

Ms. Lubin is the arts program coordinator at the Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula's Belle Haven center. She also paints, draws, and does ceramic work and other art projects.

"I think art is an extremely powerful tool in connecting people and communicating experience," she said, adding that she's especially interested in having more public art projects and children's art activities in town.

Mr. Cohen said he's heard from several other residents willing to serve.

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