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Nevada City Council considers art displays

Nevada City mulls ombudsmen for art review

Nevada City is mulling new policies about art installations.

Amy Wolfson, city planner, said at Wednesday’s council meeting that the city has provisions for signage on the sides of buildings. However, it has no provisions to prohibit murals.

“It’s been made clear to me, there is a widespread belief there is a prohibition against such as murals on the sides of buildings,” said Wolfson. “So I want council direction on if we should have a policy on murals in the city, because we’ve had some recent un-permitted art on public property and I wanted some direction if the council prefers to see some kind of art policy, or at the very minimum if it should cover things like murals on privately owned buildings.”

There was no vote on the issue Wednesday night.

Miriam Morris, a local artist, in early June painted a mural of a river on Commercial Street. The city covered it with black paint shortly afterward.

Stuart Baker, executive director of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, was invited by the council to consult on the process. He said he’s aware local merchants are excited about the prospect of establishing a city art policy.

“I know art can happen to keep the town as dynamic as it is,” said Baker. “I’m excited of the potential to display art and to make things as creative as possible for the city.”

Council member Daniela Fernandez said she was in favor of drafting a process for a review of artwork.

“I support public art, but I do not support art anarchy,” she said. “I loved Miriam Morris’ river painted down the street. But if Miriam had painted ‘White Lives Matter,’ that could have been problematic.”


Fernandez said she loves the town’s history, though it could use some lift. The town is much more than 1849 and mining. Modern art and the Victorian legacy can coexist.

“But there needs to be a process,” said Fernandez.

Council member Erin Minett added: “So, artists like Miriam can put in an application for a design, get approval, and we’re all loving it. But the river wasn’t OK.”

Morris, who watched the council meeting on Zoom, said Thursday she sought approval for her street painting in March through a chamber board member. Interim City Manager Joan Phillipe was sent a drawing of the plan via email.

“There are no rules on the books against street painting, and if you find something beautiful, why can’t you find a way forward to keep it, why destroy beauty?” asked Morris. “The issue could have been easily been put on the council’s agenda and decided then.”

Minett said permanent art should be considered a separate issue and guidelines covering it need to be crafted appropriately, as it’s not going away. She also expressed a preference to initiate the process in collaboration with Baker and local artists and make it an easy process.

“Maybe that takes a committee,” said Minett. “Maybe just a number of people to assist Amy with Stuart’s help on guidelines on how we can do that right.”

Council member Gary Petersen said the council needed significant community input on the process.

“We got a lot of stuff going on, and it’s a lot more process than anybody thinks,” he said. “I’m suggesting it may be a process for whoever comes in after Joan.”

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at wroller@theunion.com

This article was updated on Friday, Aug. 13, to correct inaccurate statements

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