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The Richland tunnel is one of the many sites in Athens that City Council is looking for artists to display their work. Athens City Council proposed to dedicate one percent of the city's budget to commission artwork in Athens. (Dustin Lennert | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

Local artists to channel tunnel vision

As part of the pedestrian tunnel project along the Richland Avenue Bridge, Athens city officials will spend $15,000 on public art in the tunnel — the city’s second Percent for Art project.

In 2008, Athens City Council passed an ordinance, called the Percent for Art program, requiring city projects totaling more than $1 million to take 1 percent of that budget and put it toward public art, Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl said, adding that these projects could be paid for through city funds, bonds or grants.

The passage of this ordinance makes Athens’ program one of 350 Percent for Art programs across the country.

The pedestrian tunnel along the Richland Avenue Bridge is part of the larger Richland Avenue Bridge project and city officials have allocated $15,000 to create artwork within the bridge.

Athens is in the beginning stages of searching for artists for the project, who will submit their credentials to the Athens Percent for Art Committee.

“Credentials have been coming in everyday,” said Andrea Lewis, the executive director of the committee. “We will have quite a few by the deadline.”

After the March 4 deadline for applications, committee members will review the credentials, and three to five artists will create a project proposal to present to the committee, Lewis said.

The committee will review the proposals and make an artist recommendation to council, and then the chosen artist will begin work on the project within 30 days, Lewis said.

The art project should be completed by fall, she added.

The funds for this project will come from the city’s Street Rehabilitation Fund, which is made up of local income taxes, said Andy Stone, director of Engineering and Public Works.

The public art created for the Richland Avenue roundabout was funded with almost 80 percent of federal grants, Stone said.

City officials originally planned to cover the tunnel with anti-graffiti coating that would prevent paint from adhering to the concrete, Stone said.

But the coating would cost about half the cost of a pubic art project in the tunnel, so they decided to use a mural or similar artwork to prevent graffiti, he added.

“The tunnel is graffiti canvas,” Stone said. “We had to figure out a way to prevent that from happening.”

Lewis said the program has large benefits for a small community from aesthetics of the city to the economy.

Athens County has about 500 artists and the program is a way for the city to support its own community, Lewis said. Public art also attracts tourists that support small business in the community, she added.

“It’s a small percentage,” said Lewis. “But a big impact.”

—Alex Stuckey contributed to this report.


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