AHB will investigate better ways to handle public art

Published 8:10 pm Thursday, February 21, 2019

The issue of incorporating public art into the city’s historic district will be addressed by the Danville Architectural Heritage Board this year. The board also wants to include the city commission and residents in the process of coming to terms with how public art can co-exist with historic properties in the downtown area.

In the AHB’s Certified Local Government program annual report, presented by Preservation Coordinator Joni House at the board’s regular meeting Wednesday, she wrote that several certificates of appropriateness requesting the addition of public art within the historic overlay district were received during 2018, which proved to be “problematic.”

She wrote that historic cities and towns throughout the United States also have difficulties in incorporating public art.

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A colorful, contemporary mural, now painted on the side of The Derby Shoppe and Raggs caused quite a debate when the project was going through the process of asking for a certificate of appropriateness from the AHB in September of last year.

“The City of Danville is being proactive and has already conducted a public information session to explore the situation with all concerned parties,” House wrote.

At the meeting, House suggested that the AHB offer a more in-depth public art training program for city officials and the public. With the support from a CLG grant, House would like to take AHB members and city commissioners to Cincinnati for a day to look at that city’s murals and talk with the people at ArtWorks. According to its website, since 1996, ArtWorks “is a workforce development and job-training program where art is the vehicle that trains and employs local youth and professional talent to create art and community impact. … and has hired more than 3,300 youth and 2,900 professional artists who have completed over 12,000 public and private art projects.”

On a second day, House wants to have people from possibly Shelbyville talk with the AHB about their public art projects. “They have a really nice interaction,” House said. The second half of the day would be an open workshop for the public to attend and discuss public art, House said.

Another issue the AHB decided to approach is requesting the city provide incentives for people who invest in maintaining their historic properties in Danville.

Board member John Bowling asked Danville City Attorney Stephen Dexter if the city offered property owners any incentives to keep their buildings “pretty and structurally sound if we comply with what the city wants?”

“There is no local incentives for preservation work at this time,” Dexter replied.

“Then the city needs to have some skin in the game too, wouldn’t you think?”

Dexter said the city commission has discussed what types of incentives it could offer historical property owners. “Maybe property tax abatement for a certain number of years or time frame until the cost of the work is recouped,” Dexter said. “The city has been looking at kind of reworking its menu of economic development incentives, and I know that was one of the items that was on the table for consideration. I’m happy to relay that to the city staff as they continue to look at that.”

After more discussions about the benefits of local incentives for historical properties, board member Julie Wagoner said the Heart of Danville has a facade grant program.

“In all due respect, I don’t want to go before The Heart of Danville and let the Heart of Danville decide whether I get a grant or not. I want it to come from the city who’s got the capability of giving tax credits,” Bowling said.

House told the group at its next meeting she would have a formal recommendation written for the AHB to present to the city council.

In other business, House announced three preservation workshops that have been scheduled in Danville.

In late March, House will conduct a program explaining what the AHB does and how it helps the historic district. “There seems to be some misunderstanding of what our roles are.” She will explain tax credits and pass out information from the Heritage Council. House said, “I don’t think a lot of folks are aware of how to use those tax credits within the district, especially on their own homes.”

A second workshop in April will be geared toward property owners who want to learn the process of having their home added to the National Historic Register.

The third workshop in May will be an all-day, hand-on session about how to repair historic windows.