Newport sculpture exhibit gets City Council's OK for next 2 years

Sculptures created by artists from across the nation will continue to have a home at Newport Beach's Civic Center Park through 2018.

The city Arts Commission has tried in recent months to find funding sources to cover the sculpture exhibition following a directive from the City Council last year that the commission look for opportunities for private groups to help pay for the exhibit rather than relying on money from the city's general fund.

However, council members opted Tuesday to give arts commissioners a little more time to raise money before they pull city money.

The council voted unanimously to earmark $250,000 from the Public Art and Cultural Facilities Fund to pay for the third and fourth phases of the sculpture project. The fund, which was established to buy and install public art, consists of about 2% of the unallocated public-benefit fees the city received from certain development projects. The money in the fund is used to transport and install the artworks.

"I think it's an opportunity to keep moving ahead with the sculpture garden and at the same time give the encouragement to our Arts Commission to move ahead in coming up with the public-private partnerships we're looking for," Councilman Ed Selich said. "I think they need a little bit of breathing room here, and this will help for the next two years."

The Arts Commission has not yet determined a timeline for installing the third phase of sculptures, according to Library Services Director Tim Hetherton.

The idea for the sculpture exhibit, which has been dubbed the "museum without walls," originated in 2013 when the City Council approved a plan to feature 10 new sculptures annually in the 14-acre Civic Center Park adjacent to City Hall at 100 Civic Center Drive. The plan was to show 10 sculptures in the first year and 10 more in the second year. This year, the sculptures from the first year will be replaced with a new set.

At the project's inception, city leaders agreed to spend $125,000 annually for the first two phases. More recently, the City Council — with several members elected in 2014 — has emphasized that the Arts Commission should start using money from private sources to finance the exhibit rather than city funds.

Councilman Scott Peotter, who has been vocal in his desire for the exhibit to be privately funded, said at first he was not inclined to support allocating funds for the sculptures through 2018 because he hasn't seen progress from commissioners in raising private funds.

However, Peotter said he would vote for funding the project for two more years given new leadership on the Arts Commission and a clearer vision for raising money. Ideas have included using the sculpture exhibit as the primary focus of arts fundraising with help from the Newport Beach Arts Foundation, and providing sponsorship opportunities to encourage local businesses to become involved in funding the exhibit.

"I'm going to support this because I do like the arts, but it is a very measured support that I would gladly yank ... if we don't have good progress in the next year," Peotter said.

The exhibit's future had begun to look murky without a guarantee of city funds.

At the beginning of the year, the Arts Commission considered seeking money through the Arts Foundation, Visit Newport Beach and the Balboa Performing Arts Theatre Foundation. That plan briefly appeared on a City Council agenda but was removed when city staff realized the donation from the Balboa foundation could be used only for performing arts.

The commission then discussed accepting $45,000 from the Balboa foundation as a loan that would have to be paid back by March 2017. But commissioners decided against that, with many of them saying it would set a bad precedent.

hannah.fry@latimes.com

Twitter: @HannahFryTCN

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