Report by Paula Antolini, May 2, 2019, 8:52AM EDT
Bethel resident Fran Pulle said she recently noticed this week that most of the sculptures that were on display on the CJH Municipal Center lawn and Bethel Public Library lawn had been removed right after she submitted a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request regarding questions about the safety and legality of the displays. “Coincidence?” Pulle said. After witnessing two sculpture exhibitions in Bethel she was determined to get answers about safety and legal issues regarding displays installed on public property. This article is regarding the installation of a sculpture exhibits by Bethel Arts on public property.
Pulle brought up some interesting questions in a Freedom of Information request (FOI) she submitted on April 30, 2019 to Janice Chrzescijanek, Director of Economic Development, Martin Lawlor, Bethel Town Attorney, the Building Department and the Zoning Department about the safety of the sculptures and cement display bases regarding installation and also questions about who installed the sculptures and whether not not permits and insurance was obtained. She asked if Bethel taxpayers paying for maintenance of the exhibit.
Additional questions were about who approved the artwork, its installation and placement, and how often are these sculptures are examined for maintenance and safety issues.
Pulle asked if Bethel taxpayers had any say in the exhibit at all. She feels the sculptures are a possible danger to the public due to “high winds and other extreme weather conditions” that could be a detriment with the “razor-sharp parts that could prove dangerous if dislodged” because they are “located in high traffic areas where children tend to gather,” she said.
The FOIA was submitted on April 30, 2019 is as follows:
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To: Janice Chrzescijanek, Director of Economic Development
Martin Lawlor, Bethel Town Attorney
Subject: Safety issues re “sculptures” on town property. Specifically
those on Town Hall front lawn, back of town library, front lawn of library.
Need Information about:
1. The footing (base) of each sculpture—is it appropriate for that particular sculpture? I would like to see the engineering reports that show how each sculpture is properly bolted, secured.
2. Are there permits for each installation?
3. Who installed each sculpture? Were Town employees involved in any way?
4. Are Bethel taxpayers paying for the maintenance (and original installation) of each sculpture?
5. Who insures each sculpture?
6. Who approved each sculpture—its installation and placement?
9. What input did Bethel taxpayers have (if any) re these sculptures?
10. How often are these sculptures examined for maintenance/safety
Note: These sculptures have been up for several years. So, they are not
temporary structures. When were they installed? I’m concerned about
the high winds and other extreme weather conditions that seem to be
on the rise in New England. These sculptures have razor-sharp parts
that could prove dangerous if dislodged. They are also located in high
traffic areas where children tend to gather.
First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker replied in an email to Pulle’s request on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, at 12:00 p.m. and said in part:
“Regarding your FOI request, please consider this email to be our formal acknowledgement of receipt of your request, as required under state law. I have copied the town attorney for his records.
“Please be advised, however, that we have no documents or correspondences in our possession that match your request. FOI law requires pubic agencies to make existing documents available for inspection by the members of the public. FOI law does not require written reports to be created if they do not already exist. However, I will be happy to discuss the questions you posed at a time convenient for you. We can chat by phone or in person, whichever you prefer.”
Pulle said this involves the use of public land. She feels that there is a direct relationship between using public land for an art display or using it for religious displays in that it pertains to the use of public property.
Pulle said, “The issue here is not just the safety issue but also what is the proper use of public land?” This is the same issue the Religious Displays Committee is trying to decide, she said, and that she thinks the people of Bethel should have a say in what is allowed on public property. She wonders if we will have a third installation of a sculptures display without public input.
It appears that Janice Chrzescijanek, Director of Economic Development for the Town of Bethel, is handling the sculpture projects by assigning an out-of-town curator who then brings in his own artists. If Bethel Arts is considered a private company why is a town employee handling a private company’s projects? Also, who gave permission for the sculptures to be placed on public property, and if the art is placed on public land, why are there no records in the town regarding approval or safety and permits?
What is Bethel Arts? Their website states: “Bethel Arts is a community-based volunteer group that seeks to promote, build and support all facets of the arts and creative culture in the town of Bethel, CT. Our membership includes area artists of all sorts, educators, businesses and audiences that know the importance of building and sustaining a vibrant creative community. From music to theatre to visual arts to new media, we aim to generate an atmosphere of collaboration, growth, and vitality in our town. By bringing Bethel’s culture and arts to the forefront, we will enhance our town’s standing as a regional destination.” Yet no input seems to be taken from the general public before installations of exhibits occur. Residents seem to have no say in the decision making process and now we are learning the town has no records regarding an exhibit on town property.
“It is high time that the proper use of public land be addressed on all fronts. It is not just going to go away,” said Pulle.
UPDATE May 2, 2019, 2:30PM:
First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker would like to clarify that the sculpture removal was planned for months and was not just removed after receiving Fran Pulle’s FOI request.
Editor note: We will be publishing a more detailed account of First Selectman Knickerbocker’s comments about the safety and legality of the sculpture exhibit shortly, in reference to the questions brought up in Pulle’s FOI request. Also coming is Knickerbocker’s explanation about the “Religious Displays Committee” illegal status that will soon be corrected.