COEUR d'ALENE - At 8 a.m. Friday, Ganesha will come down.
The five-foot statue of the Hindu God, who earned some criticism for its apparently un-American and un-Christian ways, will leave its spot on the corner of Sixth Street and Sherman Avenue and head to an art studio in Spokane.
It its place will be a 7-foot statue called "Art and Soul."
It's a creation by local artist Jason Sanchez, and one could describe the futuristic machine as something that stepped out of a Terminator movie.
"We got some unusual ones," said Joseph Sharnetsky, Arts Commission member, on this incoming crop of artistic creations - which he described as "more abstract, more colorful and more unusual" than the current fleet. "It's a little different than last year."
The program is called ArtCurrents and Sharnetsky introduced the idea to Coeur d'Alene last year.
It displays art pieces, which are for sale, on public property for one year before they're switched out. If they sell, the city recoups some of the cost since it covered the cost to put the pieces up.
While only one piece sold in the inaugural year, organizers are calling the freshman campaign a success. The program cost around $30,000 to implement last year, of which the city recouped little money back. This year, with the mounts on which the pieces will stand already in place, it should cost half that to bring in the new pieces. The one statue that did sell, however, was donated to the city to be displayed permanently.
Headlines and sales
While the pieces weren't selling like hotcakes, they did make headlines.
Genesha drew protests, which earned it media attention all the way to India.
The blue heron statue, the one piece that was donated to the city, was stolen, then returned to its perch after the theft was publicized.
"Personally, I think all publicity is good," Sharnetsky said. "It created conversation and discussions and we got a lot of people visiting town. ... I think it was a success. The second goal is obviously to sell some more."
The new wave of 13 pieces will be installed over the next two weeks, kicking off a busy summer for public art. Joining ArtCurrents will be $100,000 worth in pieces at the Coeur d'Alene Wastewater Treatment Plant and inside the education corridor. Signal boxes will be turned into canvasses for creative designs as well. Those pieces will be permanent. And including ArtCurrents, around 20 new displays will be put up by fall - one of the biggest additions since the city identified public art as a priority over the last decade.
"I think we've been very progressive," said Steve Anthony, city liaison on the arts commission.
Art's history, future
In 1999, Coeur d'Alene was the first Idaho city to adopt a percent-for-art ordinance. The ordinance dedicates 1 percent of city capital projects to public art. It's not a fee attached to private developments, only city projects, such as the recent wastewater treatment expansion.
Since then, other cities, including Boise, have adopted similar ordinances.
But not everyone is thrilled how the program is funded - that is, using public money for decorative art.
In addition to city's money, the arts commission receives a lump sum every year from Lake City Development Corp., the city's urban renewal agency. The agency, which allocates property tax dollars for economic development, gave around $100,000 to the arts commission each of the last two years.
"I'm not against public art, I'm just against it being publicly funded," said Steve Adams, first-year City Councilman, who won his seat in November along with fellow first-time councilman Dan Gookin after both advocated for a smaller municipal government. "I think the artists should pay us to put their art up, honestly."
Gookin, too, said he enjoys the aesthetic qualities of good art.
But at a time when the country is crawling out of a recession, he said, it would be better to repeal the city ordinance and hold off on all projects until things are better. Until they are, LCDC and the city should save every otherwise art-dedicated dollar they have.
"It seems to me that isn't a priority we should have," he said. "I would just pause it. We need to check our priorities."
Both he and Adams said there are too many city issues ahead that need addressing ahead of trying to change the art ordinance right now.
But look at how far those dollars stretch, Anthony said.
The arts commission has a roughly $190,000 budget, which is relatively small in the city's approximately $77 million financial plan. And around 20 new pieces fit under that cap. The art projects are also slated to coincide with the city projects that generated the cash, so it's a nice match, he said.
For example, the money construction on the wastewater treatment plant generated will be used for art pieces of 6- to 10-foot-tall statues, called "Frolicking Creatures," depicting the microorganisms that break down human waste.
"From the artistic standpoint," Anthony said. "We get a lot of bang for our buck."
Public art is not a necessity.
Few people would say it is, even the arts commission, which classifies its mission as enhancing quality of life in the region.
On Friday, The Press polled tourists around downtown Coeur d'Alene for around an hour, asking them what they thought of the public pieces by which they wandered.
Around a dozen people, from Canada to California, all said they liked it. None said it detracted from the area.
"Tastefully done," said Ginger Peter, visiting from San Jose, Calif. "It definitely adds to the charm."
"My opinion on public art is it enhances any community," said Tim Smith, visiting from Seattle, whose family likes the statue of Native American feathers on Northwest Boulevard most of all. In fact, the children point to the feathers from the back seat of the car as the family drives into town as affirmation that they've arrived in Coeur d'Alene, he said.
But what about for locals?
Art is subjective, of course. So for every person who protested Genesha's presence, there was someone who praised the statue's craftsmanship. For every person who marvels at the creativity of educational display at the wastewater treatment plant, there's someone who thinks its a waste to spend public money to beautify something so unglamorous.
"At the poop plant," city critic Sharon Culbreth mocked at a seminar two weeks ago on where the city was dedicating money.
"Some of the art in town is just childish and ugly," Gookin said, pointing to the bicycle racks that double as art pieces on Fourth Street in midtown as examples of his personal dislike. "I think they're a joke. I think they're an embarrassment. Anyone who has culture and class and comes to Coeur d'Alene would say, 'what the hell is that?'"
Artistic taste aside, Adams points to Ken Roberge as a perfect example of how public art should go up. Roberge, a local art lover, bought a $5,000 art piece called "Spirit Rising" and donated it to the city to display on public land so everyone would be able to appreciate it.
"Obviously we have a multitude of really talented artists, locally," Adams said. "I think it's cool they want to display it. I'm not against art at all - providing the location and working with the artists. I just don't think we should have taxpayer money involved."
Soon, the Hindu statue Genesha will be taken down and shipped to Spokane. Protests, headlines, it was quite a year for the elephant god. Discussion, isn't that art's objective? To create dialogue? And Friday, when the statue comes down, a sleek, steel-looking robot will take its place.
Some people will love it, others won't.