By Vickie Aldous
for the Mail Tribune
ASHLAND — The City Council has approved a public art mosaic as part of a major downtown Plaza reconstruction despite concerns from some that the design is too contemporary for the site.
The ceramic mosaic designed by Ashland artist Sue Springer will feature colorful, curving, abstract shapes in a flowing pattern. It will adorn a low concrete wall that can be used for seating.
Preliminary plans for the Plaza reconstruction call for city crews to begin demolition in January. A contractor will start work in mid-January and complete most of the project by the end of February, City Administrator Dave Kanner said.
Final work on the reconstruction will likely continue into March, he said.
More details about the construction timeline will be known later this month, Kanner said.
Councilors approved the Plaza redesign in August.
The total redesign budget — which includes a $28,000 contingency amount — is $168,000, Kanner said this week.
The project includes low concrete walls to protect trees and landscaping, benches, pavers and the removal of several trees that are suffering in the tight urban space.
The Plaza redesign continues to be debated, with some people saying it will make the area more durable and able to withstand the heavy use it receives. Others have said the redesigned Plaza won’t be comfortable and welcoming, and the low concrete walls will look too modern.
The contemporary-versus-historical debate continued last week in discussions over the public art now planned there.
Ashland Historic Commission members said they didn’t have enough opportunity to give input on the design, which was chosen by a public art selection panel. The process was guided by the Ashland Public Arts Commission.
The Historic and Public Arts Commissions held a special meeting about the art in September, but only one Historic Commission member and three Public Arts Commission members were able to attend.
Historic Commission member Keith Swink said this week that commission members thought they would have more opportunity to weigh in on art that could impact the visual nature of Ashland’s downtown.
Councilor Carol Voisin proposed delaying the approval of the art until after the two commissions could meet again, but other councilors wanted to move forward and voted to approve the project.
While the art design is contemporary, Councilor Greg Lemhouse said it will fit in and doesn’t overwhelm the Plaza space.
“It’s impossible for us to come up with something everyone in this town or everyone who visits this town will like. That’s the great thing about art,” Lemhouse said, noting that everyone can have their own opinion.
Councilor Pam Marsh said historical elements help establish a sense of place for the Plaza, but the design must also consider the current population.
“I think we’re getting the best of both worlds here,” Marsh said. “We’re going to have the historical elements, but we’re also going to have a sense of liveliness and engagement that I think are what we want on the Plaza.”
The Iron Mike pioneer statue and lithia water drinking fountains will be among the unchanged fixtures on the Plaza.
Springer has designed other public art installations in Ashland, including a mosaic that features animals in a Granite Street sidewalk, and a mosaic showcasing local geologic landmarks and wildlife at North Mountain Park.
In her artist’s statement for the mosaic, Springer said the Plaza has always functioned as a gathering place.
She said people move through the Plaza and also stop to connect with others.
“With this installation, the artwork speaks to the flow of the creek, movement of people and passing time,” Springer said in the statement.
The Plaza is next to businesses that border Ashland Creek.
The public art project will cost an estimated $13,160 and will be paid for with city hotel tax revenue.
To see Springer’s concept drawing for the project, go to http://tinyurl.com/ajcv2f4.
Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.