Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

NORTH SIDE PUBLIC ART RUNS INTO CITY 'BUREAUCRAZY' [Corrected 08/01/ 15]

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

NORTH SIDE PUBLIC ART RUNS INTO CITY 'BUREAUCRAZY' [Corrected 08/01/ 15]

Article excerpt

A large piece of public art on private property is one of the most interesting things to appear in the East Deutschtown section of Spring Garden in a long time. Located at 826 Madison Ave., visible to traffic headed toward Parkway North, Scott Bye's "Spare Change" is a tilted massing of the tops of former electrical spools, painted silver.

Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center, also on Madison Avenue, initiated the work. On Monday, Neu Kirche co-founder Lee Parker showed me the sculpture, among others that now dot the neighborhood. They are part of the art center's Fallow Grounds for Sculpture series, placing works of art on vacant sites with permission of the land's owner.

She also showed me a letter from the city's department of Permits, Licenses and Inspection, dated July 22.

The letter proves just how wrongheaded it can be to follow the letter of the law when no one is hurt, only one is complaining and, in fact, the very "violation" is an example of the seeds of change that forward-thinking leaders - like, say, Mayor Bill Peduto - like to tout.

The city's letter states that Cassique Properties, which owns 826 Madison Ave., has changed the use from commercial to art structure. Therefore, it needs a certificate of occupancy, and then an inspection, to make sure that building and zoning codes are being followed.

It should be spelled "bureaucrazy." Here you have a fastidious oversight that is, paradoxically, visionless and hamfisted. This letter is essentially a form letter. How does this instruction jibe with a grassy meadow that holds a very silent piece of sculpture?: "You are hereby directed to cease operation until all necessary permits are secure."

Cassique Properties was generous to give Neu Kirche permission to install Mr. Bye's work, but no property owner should be expected to fight city hall for the right to keep someone else's work. Neu Kirche has the passion to fight, but it isn't its property, so there's the rub.

A work of art on a vacant lot does not change the lot from being developed commercially. Land is not an art structure. An art "structure" can be disassembled.

This is precisely what might happen if within 30 days someone doesn't get down to Ross Street and get a certificate of occupancy. …

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