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Explaining the public art ordinance

A response to the recent response to proposed public art installations in Downtown Napa.

Originally posted on the Napa Valley Register

The recent response to proposed public art installations in Downtown Napa demonstrates how art can serve as a catalyst for public discourse about what we value as a community. As committed members of the local arts community, it’s exciting to see fellow residents take an interest in the impact of art on our public spaces. However, we also we recognize frustrated residents with valid concerns, and in some cases an alarming trend of misinformed comments and personal attacks. Creating a transparent process and an avenue for constructive and respectful public input is not only an important part of the democratic process, but is also important for a healthy arts community. In this spirit, we offer some points about Napa’s public art program.


Like in over 350 American city programs, our public art program is governed by a Public Art Ordinance (adopted in Napa, 2010) and a Public Art Master Plan (2014). Fundamentally, Napa’s Ordinance was established to stimulate and provide structure for local public art opportunities, independent of tax-payer dollars. It requires all development projects in the City valued at over $250,000 to dedicate 1% of the value of the project’s construction to public art. These projects must either a) incorporate art into their project that is publicly accessible or b) pay an in-lieu fee to the City’s Public Art Fund. The Public Art Steering Committee (established in 2012 as part of the Ordinance) serves as an advisory body to the City Manager and City Council on Public Art Fund projects. The Master Plan articulates the vision, goals and core values of the City’s public art program as well as Administrative Guidelines for implementation of the program. Please visit http://qcode.us/codes/napa/ to read the Ordinance and Plan (Chapter 15.108).

The Ordinance outlines two distinct processes for the review and approval of projects:

  • The process for “PUBLIC” projects (located on City property and/or funded by the City’s Public Art Fund) from proposal to artist selection to final presentation are conducted at noticed public meetings and/or community workshops. 
  • For “PRIVATE” projects (those on private property funded directly by the developer and not by public resources, like Hand of the Land by Gordon Huether proposed by the owner of the Archer Hotel), developers retain sole discretion in the selection of the artist and artwork, with the opportunity for public feedback only during the Planning Commission review at the end of the approval process. Residents also have the right to address government officials at all public meetings, including the City Council, Planning Commission and Public Art Steering Committee, so all agendas are required to have a dedicated time for public comment. 

As expected, the review process was the subject of much discussion when the Public Art Ordinance was first being considered by City Council. While the arts community pushed for more public input on all projects, the development community expressed concern that on top of the new fee, an additional layer of review would unduly delay projects and potentially limit their First Amendment rights. 


The conversation around the Archer proposal illustrates the level of passion from the community and desire for input during the process. When private development takes place in prominent locations, it is easy to understand such a strong public reaction. Our downtown is important to every resident, and even the thousands of tourists who visit every year. Its future depends on a conscious strategy and collaboration between public and private interests. In response, the Public Art Steering Committee and Arts Council Napa Valley are making an effort to turn the rising concerns into positive action. We have reached out to City leadership and key stakeholders to find mutually beneficial opportunities for engaging public perspective on private art projects, in ways that will both align with City’s current review procedures and not unduly delay development projects. We are very encouraged by the response we’ve received so far and ask for the your support going forward. 


If you are interested in becoming more involved in our City’s public art program, there are several ways you can stay informed and join the conversation:

  • Access agendas and minutes of all Planning Commission or Public Art Steering Committee meetings on the City’s website (http://bit.ly/1QQ22fz)
  • Request to be notified with agendas of upcoming meetings, contact Planning Dept. Secretary, Shuree Hansen: shansen@cityofnapa.org
  • Utilize public comment periods these meetings to inform the advisors and decision-makers of your perspectives
  • Communicate directly with private proposal contacts with constructive criticism 
  • Connect with Arts Council Napa Valley for information on arts around the county and learn about best practices in arts advocacy: www.artscouncilnapavalley.org
  • Email your City Council representatives directly, addresses here: http://bit.ly/1HiDSWu

Kristina Young, Vice Chair, Public Art Steering Committee

Olivia Everett, CEO & President, Arts Council Napa Valley