ENID, Okla. — In a 4-3 vote Tuesday night, Enid City Commission approved the location and $30,000 for a proposed downtown art project.
Mayor Bill Shewey and city commissioners Tammy Wilson, Ben Ezzell and George Pankonin voted in favor of approving the project. Commissioners Ron Janzen, Derwin Norwood and Jonathan Waddell voted against it.
The decision came after an hour of discussion about the project in study session and an additional hour of discussion during the regular city meeting.
“No matter what our votes are tonight, let’s not allow this to fragment us,” Norwood said near the end of study session.
At the end of the study session, Shewey spoke about the concerns he’d had about the project and how they’d been addressed.
“Initially ... when the Enid arts project was announced I had some concerns,” Shewey said. “Concerns were No. 1, location; No. 2, future maintenance; No. 3 funding. These concerns have been addressed by the artist, (and) the architect, to my satisfaction.”
Enid native Romy Owens, an Oklahoma City-based artist behind the sculptural pavilion, and architect Adam Lanham presented the project, “Under Her Wing was the Universe,” again to commissioners in study session.
Most discussion during the study session revolved around maintenance of the project, meaning behind the name, rules about city ownership, insects and wildlife, the sidewalk to be built going through the sculptural pavilion and funding. The project would be constructed on city green space south of the Central National Bank Center south parking lot. The project would stand for 10 years, after which the city can decide whether to take it down or leave it up longer.
After reconvening for the regular meeting, commissioners found a packed house. More chairs had to be brought in, and many people were left standing.
When time came for discussion on the art project, there was short discussion with Owens, Lanham and city commissioners. Norwood asked a series of nine questions provided by the public, and one of his own.
Questions again revolved around project maintenance, security and revenue generation. Owens and Lanham discussed the project being low maintenance, with part of the project funds being budgeted toward maintenance of the pavilion.
Main Street Enid Director Kelly Tompkins said at a minimum at least $15,000 in free advertisement would be generated every year.
Norwood asked about the possibilities of the project being tied to religion and spirituality. Owens said there was no overt religious implications to the project, saying the project can meet someone where they are.
“If it means (something) to an individual in a spiritual way that moves them within their own religious beliefs, then I’m so happy for them. If it moves people in a scientific way ... I reward that,” Owens said. “It is not a religious structure, it definitely adheres to the separation of church and state, it is not endorsed by any religious belief.”
Then, a group of 10 residents who were signed up to speak had the floor. A number of them were local pastors or residents that identified themselves as Christian and spoke against the project.
Lewis Blackburn said, “This does not represent me as a Christian.”
Clayton Stevicks, a local pastor, spoke against the project saying it was religious.
“This is paganism at its core, paganism is religious,” he said. “Your religion cannot be and should not be published by taxpayers’ dollars and constructed in a place where you can get connected through the universe and then call it art.”
David Ezzell came up to speak in favor of the project, talking about his hopes for it and the community.
“I don’t know how this suddenly got turned into a fundamentalist Christian battle for the soul of the city ... this is a project which has received huge amounts of financial support, public support, from this community,” David said.
Other speakers in favor of the project talked about it potentially being a part of Oklahoma, the importance of art and art education in Enid, and it being a gathering place for youth and locals.
Carol Jarrett, a 16-year-old student at Enid High School, said by implementing the project her generation “connects closer to nature and to family and friends,” among a number of other benefits.
Another resident speaking in favor of the project, Christopher Sneed, identified himself as Christian, but said people take their own interpretations into different art projects, and that it doesn’t affect their beliefs.
“I’m not sure why we’re discussing our spiritual beliefs behind this because my faith is not built on her interpretation of what she calls this art project,” Sneed said. “I hope that the city will look at this and what it can do for the economy and what it can do for the social structure in this city.”
After the speakers finished, Waddell thanked everyone present and those who contacted him during the past few weeks.
“This project has stirred up an interest ... I haven’t seen from this community on any other subject. That alone is progress,” Waddell said.
Wilson spent some time emphasizing the importance of the public being informed about commission decisions, and she talked about the city budget and clarifying how it works.
She said the ordinance about art in public places was created several years ago, and that funding for it goes to public art. Other budgets created each year goes toward things like street repairs and the water treatment plant.
“I think there’s a big misconception about how we can spend money,” Wilson said.
Janzen made a statement about there being a big difference of opinion on what art is.
“I was pretty sure the first thing right out of the box would be something really strange, and that proved to be the case,” Janzen said. “At some point we’re going to have to decide whether we like it or not.”