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A public art controversy that has been festering in City Hall for two years has taken a new turn, with the Buffalo Arts Commission accusing the Common Council of jeopardizing the credibility of future projects.

The dispute involves a long-stalled plan to erect an abstract 12-foot-tall statue in the Ferry-Fillmore District police station.

Some critics, including several Common Council members, think "Guardian Angel" looks like a "disemboweled figure" that fails to reflect the essence of police work.

Under an ordinance that took effect in 1999, all city public works projects costing at least $1 million must use 1 percent of their budgets for a public art component.

Reacting in part to a recent recommendation from a neighborhood advisory committee, the Council wants the Arts Commission to go back to the drawing board and select a new work. But in a letter that appeared at the top of Tuesday's Council meeting agenda, commission leaders balked at the notion of scrapping the earlier process.

Commission Chairwoman Margaret Roblin and Christine Tebes, who oversaw the police station art project selection, said the "Guardian Angel" design was picked following a comprehensive review process patterned after national selection models. They said the same process was used to select a mural erected in another police station.

"If this process is allowed to be compromised, the credibility of future projects will be jeopardized," they wrote. "We have great concern as to how such a jeopardized process will be viewed amongst art professionals in other major art centers and communities, and here in Buffalo."

But Masten Council Member Antoine M. Thompson, who represents the neighborhood in which the police station is located, claimed the earlier process did not include enough input from neighborhood interests.

"It's not that they don't support art," he said. "It's just that they don't want something shoved down their throats. An art project should unite the community, not divide it."

Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana urged the commission to abandon its push to erect "Guardian Angel," which would be made of cast bronze and hammered copper at a cost of up to $30,000.

"Obviously, the neighborhood is not in favor of this," he said. "It would be more prudent for the commission to meet with the Council and start the process over."

Majority Leader Rosemarie LoTempio, who hasn't hidden her dislike for the sculpture since a miniature model was unveiled two years ago, was among 11 Council members who voted earlier this month to shelve the proposal. She made it clear Tuesday that she hasn't changed her mind.

But Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk and Joseph Golombek of the North District voted against shelving the "Guardian Angel" project. Franczyk said the Council is wrong to negate the outcome of a thorough review process.

"It makes Council members art critics. Unless they can come here and give me a nice lecture on art theory, I'm not willing to give them that kind of authority," he said.


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