Cambridge to start sidewalk art project

A vase of flowers and a photo of Marlys Palmer sat at her place at the council dais in memorial of the former mayor and current council member. Palmer died from complications from a heart attack on Sept. 26.

Some of the sidewalks, and possibly a few crosswalks as well, may soon be much more colorful in the city of Cambridge.

During the Oct. 7 city council meeting, the Cambridge council approved on a 3-1 vote a motion to go forward with a sidewalk mural program. Council member Bob Shogren cast the lone no vote.

According to city administrator Lynda Woulfe, the idea for the program came from other cities such as Red Wing, Cannon Falls and even Minneapolis, who allow artwork to be painted on various sidewalks around their cities. 

Woulfe said there will be certain restrictions involved with what could be pictured in the artwork. Designs will not be allowed to promote commercial products, political candidates or movements, tobacco, alcohol or gambling. Designs also cannot involve religious messages, misleading, disrespectful or libelous matters. Naturally, designs also cannot be obscene or contain vulgar language.

Woulfe said that designs will have to be brought before a panel of city staff-selected artists and art instructors, who will then make recommendations to the council for approval. 

Woulfe said she has already approached Anoka Ramsey Community College, Cambridge-Isanti High School, Cambridge Christian School and Play Inc Arts about this project, and they were “very excited about participating in it.”

She said this project will be completely voluntary, with the only expense being a small amount of staff time to apply for grants for materials needed by the artists. 

In addition, Woulfe said the Milk Paint Company was considering donating up to 15 gallons of paint for the project.

The council, however, did have some apprehensions about the project. Shogren, who cast the lone no vote, had the most questions.

“I haven’t figured out what the city function is with this project,” Shogren said. “I love art, but I have an issue with the city providing a canvas for the art.”

In addition, Shogren was concerned about the possible implications of the city having to determine what is acceptable art and what isn’t.

“Things change over time about what is acceptable and what isn’t,” he said, noting a recent article he read that stated the “okay” hand signal is now considered by some to be a racist symbol. “I’m just thinking we are opening a can of worms here because we may let something go on our sidewalks that someone will find offensive, or somebody else will get angry because they won’t be able to express themselves.”

Council member Lisa Iverson was concerned about the placing of the artwork, noting that people might get distracted while driving trying to look at it or people might be prone to stepping out into the street to look at it. She suggested that all artwork be oriented so that the bottom is farthest away from the street.

In addressing Shogren’s concerns, Woulfe said that this project could be considered a marketing tool to try and help to bring new residents and businesses into the area. Plus, she argued that it would help bring the current community closer together and generate community discussion.

She added that the paint is not permanent, so as times change, new artwork could replace old artwork.

Council changes garbage container ordinance

Also at the council meeting, the council heard a proposal from Carri Levitski regarding the city’s current ordinance for the number of refuse containers residents are allowed to have visible outside their homes.

Currently, there is a two-container limit, with any more than that having to be placed behind a fence or screening if they remain outside for an extended period of time. It has been discovered, however, that Waste Management offers three containers to their customers. One is for regular trash, one is for recycling and one is for yard waste. 

“With the addition of the yard waste container, staff feels it is necessary to allow an additional container that can be visibly stored immediately in front of or adjacent to the garage,” Levitski said.

The council approved amending the ordinance to allow for up to three containers to be visible on the outside of a residence.

City water gets clean report

The council heard from Public Works director Todd Schwab that the results from the mandatory tests for lead and copper have come back, and the city is well under the maximum allowable levels for both.

“We’ve been testing since 2004, and we’ve never had a problem,” Schwab said. “Given the problems of places like Flint, Michigan, this is pretty important testing.”

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