Most residents don't know it, but the city of Toledo owns about 40 original oil and watercolor paintings, photographs, fiber works, and prints - a lesser-known collection within the “public art” program that keeps 44 sculptures in city streets, buildings, and parks.
Unlike the sculptures, no one has seen the pictures for several months because they've spent the past year in a closet at an Adams Street picture framing shop.
There are no Rembrandts in the bunch, but the collection is a survey of Toledo-produced art reaching back to 1979.
“This is public art. This belongs to the people of Toledo,” said Bill Chapin, a member of the Art in Public Buildings committee of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo who is storing the work in his frame shop.
“It came here after a big push to repair and reframe it all, but so far, it's not been put back up. I look forward to when they come and take it out of here. It belongs out where people can see it,” he said.
If all goes to plan, the taxpayer-funded art will be out of the dark and on the walls at One Government Center, Toledo Municipal Court, the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, and five other buildings by summertime.
The pictures were taken down in 1998 for a special Arts Commission anniversary exhibit, said Public Art Coordinator Marc Folk. Some were damaged, faded, or just needed sprucing up, so the commission spent $20,772 and three years putting them back into shape, labeling, cataloging, and surveying each office and boardroom so the art can be better displayed, tracked, and maintained.
Since 1980, volunteers from the Arts Commission bought art from local painters, photographers, glassblowers, and printmakers, some part of the annual Toledo Area Artists' “May Show” at the Toledo Museum of Art. These prize-winning pictures are supposed to rotate every two years through public areas of city-owned buildings. It didn't quite turn out that way. “Some ended up inside individual offices,” Mr. Folk said.
“Sometimes, when administrations changed and someone new moved in, they decided that they hated that picture. So they took it down and stashed it behind a filing cabinet. Or they traded it with someone else's picture. It was a real challenge locating them all,” Mr. Chapin added.
“And some people tend to take them on as their own property,” said Mike Duket, head of the Art in Public Buildings committee. “We knew we had to inventory them all, get their images into a database, get them up on a web site so people can enjoy them.”
No picture escaped the big roundup, Mr. Chapin said. “We even ended up with a couple of extra things we didn't know we had,” he said.
A few items were mounted recently in the lobby of City Council chambers at One Government Center, and more are to reappear soon, Mr. Folk said.
For now, the 28-year-old administrator's plate is full of pushing a $216,395 public art budget past the planning commission and council, raising money for artwork at Fifth Third Field, finishing up a Vietnam veterans memorial, and soliciting 4,500 artists for an online database. “Art has an impact on the public,” Mr. Folk said.
“You can go to pay your water bill and never notice the painting on the wall. But if that wall is left blank, you've had no experience of art at all. We want to give regular people opportunities to experience art every day, along with their water bill.”