Micromanaging murals: Former mayor voices frustrations with council
During their June 4th meeting the City Council ended the San Marcos Mural Arts Program as it exists today. The program is incredibly popular with the public, extremely efficient with all budgeted money being spent for paint, supplies, and artists stipends and a program that simply gets the job done and produces beautiful artwork on once drab concrete or graffiti covered walls.
The mural program receives just a tiny portion of the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT), which is paid only by visitors when they stay in a hotel room. The potential uses of these funds are decided by the Texas Legislature and are very limited. These funds can’t be used to fix a pothole or clean up the river but can be used for the arts. In the past five years the council has unanimously approved $30,000, or just 2% of the total received annually. All expenditures are in accordance with COSM policies and only made by city employees. It’s arguably the most efficient use of funds for any city program and there’s not a hint of impropriety associated with this program.
The Mural program has created nearly 30 murals throughout the city and is an incredibly popular program. According to our former Public Information Officer, when murals are the subject of social media posts, it often receives more likes and positive feedback than almost all others. The program showcases our city in a positive way, has been chronicled in Texas Travel Magazine and other publications and is mentioned in nationwide articles along with the most successful mural programs in the country. The program now typically receives 50 or more applications from local, national, and international artists for each public Call for Artists we publish to receive concept designs, a number that has grown steadily with the success of the program. We have even received positive comments from members of the British Knighthood who were visiting our city and river.
Community involvement has always been a key focus of the program and hundreds of local and out of town citizens, kids and adults alike, participate in Community Paint Days which are a requirement for all murals. Committee members recently spent 8 hours with local veterans to understand more about the experience of military service to be reflected in our Veterans Mural. There is also a long- anticipated mural in process that has held two community meetings with the residents of the Barrio Pescado neighborhood and will be located on a prominent wall facing Hwy 123. Currently, one of our largest murals to date is underway along Sessom’s Drive on a wall that is constantly tagged and will depict the essence of the Edward Aquifer and its important connection to the citizens of San Marcos. Last week another call for artists was published for a mural at Wonder World Cave. No conversation or consideration was devoted to these ongoing projects and the fate of them.
The idea for the program started with a visit I made to the Philadelphia Mural Arts program. They have the most successful program in the world with over 6000 world class murals. After two trips on my own dime I sponsored an agenda item with Councilwoman Kim Porterfield, and the council was very excited about the possibilities and unanimously approved it. The committee is made up of 3 city staff members as directed by city management, Arts Coordinator, Keep San Marcos Beautiful, and Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Chair of the Arts Commission, a Texas State Arts and Humanities representative and Myself. Four of the committee members have been involved since day one and together we worked with our Legal Dept. to draft artist agreements and follow all applicable city regulations. We also had to create copyright policies, selection criteria, stipend amounts, RFP language, and all other details of a program that did not exist.
All the work, dedication, passion, knowledge came to an end on Tuesday night. The current committee will be disbanded because the council wants more control over the program and I would argue, for political reasons, did not want me involved anymore.
Certain Council members have been trying to eliminate the mural committee since I was sworn in as Mayor in December 2016 and turn the program over to the Arts Commission, which in recent years has been plagued by infighting and ineffectiveness to the point where board members have quit, deciding it wasn’t worth the hassle. Even the current Chair of that commission, who has the most knowledge of the program, has publicly stated it should remain as is. No current council member or the Mayor has ever attended a mural meeting, asked us how the committee operates or how the process works. The committee members were not notified about the council discussion item nor were we asked to attend to provide the council with any input or insight into the program or process. This is shabby treatment of our committee members who have worked so hard for so many years and I am sorry, but not surprised, they were treated this way. So, now the Mural Program goes to The Arts Commission where they will attempt to reinvent the wheel. No doubt we will see many more mermaid murals in the future.
As a former Mayor, I know firsthand that The Council has far more important things they need to focus on like traffic, taxes, jobs, housing, soaring violent crime, poverty, flooding and other high-level policy decisions that are critical to the future of this city. For now, at least they can check ending the Mural Program off their to-do list.