Time ran out for parking ramp mural, city planning official says
Jeff Eckhoff says the decision to end the project was made in consultation with the financial backer.
SIOUX FALLS — Plans for a mural to cover the exposed wall of a downtown parking ramp just ran out of time, the top city planning official said Tuesday, Feb. 21.
The $20 million ramp near Phillips Avenue on 10th Street was built as the base of plans for a multi-story hotel and retail complex. When the private developer on the project couldn’t meet financial obligations in 2019, the city pulled out.
Discussions are underway with companies interested in reviving the development. In the meantime, the bare concrete is an unsightly reminder of the failed deal.
A mural, city leaders thought, could enhance the space in the interim.
But that too, fell through last week when Jeff Eckhoff, director of planning and development, said in a statement that there would be no mural because a shared vision could not be reached on the design.
In an interview on Tuesday, Eckhoff said the timing and logistics were becoming an issue.
“What could happen is that we may not get it up this year, then you kind of lose a year and it’s hard for the donor to get the value out of that,” he said. “It was just decided that we know development will come eventually and that timeline gets shorter, so rather than complicate it we’ll say we’re not going to do anything.”
Eckhoff made his comments following a regular meeting of the Visual Arts Commission, which was charged with picking an artist to complete the mural. The city enlisted the Sioux Falls Arts Council to administer the process, including finding qualified artists, vetting concepts and bringing options to the VAC.
Kellen Boice, executive director of the Arts Council, on Tuesday said that her organization believes it has fulfilled its portion of the agreement with the city. There was some discussion, Boice said in an interview, about further vetting the top choices with other groups.
That’s not what the Arts Council was engaged to do and would step outside the process of finding a qualified artist and then allowing them to “control the narrative,” she said.
Boice is also vice chair of the VAC but did not vote in the final selection of the artist.
The process was a new one for both groups. The intent was not to commission a piece based on a given theme, or a community mural where multiple people contribute. Rather, the idea is to find a few qualified artists based on their work and vision and then allow them to determine the direction of the art.
“This is uncharted territory for us,” Boice said.
In this case, 24 artists submitted for consideration. The three finalists were paid $500 to do an initial design for the mural. Then the VAC recommended the winner.
Changing that process now, with further vetting by additional groups, isn’t fair to the artists or that particular interest group, whether that’s a racial or ethnic minority, sexual identification or preference, or any other delineation that may arise, she said.
“That’s discrimination,” Boice said. “It’s a good thing to draw a line in the sand and say this is where we stand.”
The VAC in December unanimously chose a concept by artists Amber Hansen, Reyna Hernandez and Darcy Millette. The project had a budget of $28,500, which was donated by a Sioux Falls company, MarketBeat. The deadline for completion was June 30.
However, on Jan. 17, Eckhoff told the commission that Mayor Paul Tenhaken preferred “The Dance of Creativity,” the second-ranked piece by Eric Vozzola.
No images of the concepts have been made public. Boice reminded the VAC that the artists maintain the copyright to the work and releasing or sharing the images would violate the agreement.
Hansen, Hernandez and Millette sent a statement to Sioux Falls Live in advance of Tuesday’s meeting.
In the statement, they thanked the groups involved in the process. They said they did not know why the administration rejected their concept, which they titled “Buffalo Dreamer.”
“As local artists and community focused muralists, we are disappointed by the exploitation of time, energy, and resources that the city’s process demanded from those it claims to serve. Despite our disappointment in what has transpired, we are hopeful that this experience ignites a conversation surrounding issues of transparency and systemic power plays concerning who determines and shapes the arts and culture in the city of Sioux Falls and throughout the state of South Dakota,” the said in the statement.
Eckhoff said the uncertainty of the timeline ultimately drove the decision.
“We didn’t know if we could (finish) or not,” he said. “The donor obviously has an investment in it. The more time the better for the investment. It was mutual, since we could guarantee getting it done this year, we just decided to not go forward with it.”
MarketBeat Founder and CEO Matt Paulson previously said he was disappointed in the process.
Paulson confirmed Tuesday that ending the sponsorship was a mutual decision with the city. "But we also weren't comfortable moving ahead when city leadership, the VAC, the Arts Council, and the artists were not all on the same page as to how to best move forward," he said.