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Making Room for Public Art

Posted on 22 October 2010

Now that the village has approved a law making music in restaurants legal, it may soon find itself tackling a thornier subject: making public art legal. Or more disturbing still: defining art.

Gallery owner and Sag Harbor resident Ruth Vered — or Vered, if you will — learned this week that there is no place for public art in the village code. It doesn’t address it, beyond allowing ornamental structures no more than 6-inches from the building.

Vered has erected a work of art — a pair of legs created by Larry Rivers — alongside her home on the corner of Henry and Madison streets that stands about 15-feet tall. Clearly it goes beyond the approved limits of an ornamental structure.

As things go, the village’s zoning board of appeals would probably never have addressed the legs, had there not come a complaint from the village’s architectural review board. Like many things when enforcement is involved, if no one complains, we’ll just let it slide. But pushed, they needed to render a verdict based on the law as it stands. No art in the code? It must be a structure — like a tool shed or a gazebo.

Well, it’s not.

And here the village’s board of trustees may be called upon to make room in the code for public art in our neighborhoods; which frankly we don’t think is a bad idea.

Whether or not we like the legs — and for the record, we kind of do — we are a community that has embraced art and we recognize art enriches the community. The road to codifying art is a tricky — if not impossible — one; but it is one we think the village should begin the conversation about taking.

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