“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Those are the words of Pablo Picasso, the master poet, playwright and artist who should know about art and souls.

Those also are perfect words to describe why the city of Santa Maria should embrace the notion of public art, and move forward with a plan to make such art part of the cityscape.

The “plan” refers to the Santa Maria Public Art Plan that was set into motion two years ago with a goal of enhancing the city’s identity by “intertwining culture, people, neighborhoods and ideas to create a memorable urban landscape that respects the past and builds for the future.”

Those are the words of city officials, including Recreation and Parks Department Director Alex Posada, who also said, “The most important part is to create a sense of community and pride in Santa Maria.”

Two years seems a long time for a public art plan to be bouncing around without much forward motion. The City Council now has approved creation of a special committee to review the overall plan, focusing on finding ways to pay for public art projects.

When elected officials start creating “special committees” to look into almost anything, it is a bureaucrat’s way of saying, this will not happen.

Council member Jack Boysen wanted to skip the special committee part altogether, and just be rid of the plan, saying “I can’t get my arms around supporting going forward at this time. I was raised on the principle that government should only do those things that the private sector cannot and will not do effectively or efficiently and this just does not fall into that category for me.”

The biggest barrier seems to be money, or rather how or if to use taxpayer dollars to finance a public art campaign.

Boysen’s notion of leaving it up to the private sector may be partially on point, because private businesses in areas where public art could be displayed would be among the beneficiaries. There are obvious benefits to the general public — as so aptly pointed out by Pablo Picasso — but the city’s citizens wouldn’t be the only winners.

So, why not a partnership between city government and the private sector to work out a plan to finance public art?

The special committee will, presumably, look into such a collaboration. At the same time, city staff will be working on proposals to add a fee to building permits that would help finance the public art plan.

As one might anticipate, representatives of the building trades don’t care much for the extra-fees scheme, and said as much at a council meeting last week. On the other hand, more than a dozen citizens also voiced their opinions, and were overwhelmingly in favor of creating a public art plan.

What they’re talking about — and arguing over — would be memorials, historical monuments, installations, murals, sculptures, mosaics, decorative features and functional elements. Those are just a few examples of public art.

Cities that have embarked on public art campaigns are happy they did so. Such art tends to get citizens outside, walking around town and generally better enjoying the community.

There is no limit on the types of art that could be used. Several U.S. cities have fire hydrants festooned with different artwork, and it’s fascinating. Fire hydrants don’t really have to be boring.

Once the human imagination is properly stimulated, there is no end to the potential for creativity, which is why the special committee needs to hit the ground running.

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