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North Adams City Council Asked to Intercede in 'Pillar Art' Stalemate
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
06:13PM / Monday, January 13, 2020
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The so-called 'pillar art' that was a school project was painted over in 2017.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The matter of the "pillar art" will be brought before the City Council on Tuesday. 
 
Councilors Marie T. Harpin and Jason Laforest are asking that the council order that pillars under the Veterans Memorial Bridge be tested to determine if the artwork that was painted over nearly three years ago can be restored. 
 
"As the legislative body of the city. it is our responsibility to listen to our constituents and act on their behalf to resolve this grievance. Due to the two and a half year failure to resolve this disappointing loss of public art created by our public school children, we request the City Council take action to resolve the matter fairly, timely and with transparency. Please see the attached order," the councilors write in their communication to the council. 
 
They also attached news stories, letters to the editor, and time lines along with a 26-page petition.
 
The controversy dates back to 2017, when Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art "restored" artists Bruce Odland and Sam Auinger's "Harmonic Bridge" under the overpass by painting the pillars gray. The sound installation was put in place in 1998 to mark the coming opening of the nearby museum the next year. It includes 16-foot piping that creates a droning sound in the key of C and, museum officials and the artists say, the painting of the eight massive pillars that line Marshall Street in gray.
 
In 2012 and 2013, Greylock School art teacher Christina King had worked with sixth-grade students to paint murals on the pillars depicting pillow patterns made at the old Arnold Print Works (now home to Mass MoCA) and images from the famed Lewis Hines photographs of local mill children. The paintings had included the collaboration of artist William Oberst and Art About Town with Philip and Gail Sellers and other community members.
 
Both pieces predate the establishment of the Public Arts Commission and neither appears to have had more than a verbal agreement with city officials. When the pillars were painted over in preparation for the opening of Building 6 in 2017, the museum did contact City Hall and Art About Town — but did not seek permission to paint over the murals from the commission despite applying for two other works on city property that year.
 
The matter has been before the Public Arts Commission numerous times, with the commission urging the mural artists to work with the museum. Those talks have gone nowhere. The city has offered another location with an existing mural, but King and Oberst have declined, saying they did not want to paint over the work of another artist. 
 
The mural artists have been told that the pillars were painted with an anti-graffiti paint that could possibly be removed without affecting the murals underneath. The commission had rejected an application to do that for several reasons, including that the gray pillars were part of an existing artwork. 
 
The issue has largely been kept alive by a handful of people: the artists, Vincent and Margo Melito and Joseph Smith, who owns property in Clarksburg and North Adams. They have written letters to the editor and attended PAC meetings over the past few years. 
 
Vincent Melito also provided the councilors with the petition that has signatures he's been gathering for more than two years. It has close to 400 names, however, at least 80 are signed by people who are not residents of North Adams and about 120 appear to be people who did not sign but who asked to be included via Facebook and did not put down an address. 
 
The City Council will also take up a request from Mayor Thomas Bernard to transfer $71,000 from the Stabilization account to Public Services account for an analysis of the city's sewer system and will get an update on the status of the public safety building. 
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