Gainey to replace all members of the Pittsburgh Art Commission

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey has dismissed all of the current members of the city’s Art Commission.

Commission members, who are appointed by the mayor, serve their terms under the same timeframe as the mayor who appointed them, said Maria Montaño, a spokeswoman for Gainey.

That means the commissioners Gainey dismissed technically ended their appointed terms when Gainey took office in January after Bill Peduto departed. They have spent nearly a year working in what Montaño called a “transitional period” for the new mayor.

Andrew Moss, who served as the board chair and president of the Art Commission, said he was concerned with Gainey’s decision to remove all existing members.

“During my seven years as part of the Art Commission, the makeup of the members has always evolved as existing members stepped down with the current mayor appointing new members to fill vacant seats,” Moss said. “The current commission has had two empty seats that the mayor had not filled for some time.”

Moss said there was a benefit to always having some existing, experienced members stay on the commission to guide new appointees.

There are several projects that are open and pending before the Art Commission, Moss said, and a few others that have been tabled and continued. The new commissioners will need to familiarize themselves with those projects and pick up where the previous team had left off.

“Regardless of who he selects, there’s going to be some disconnect,” Moss said.

The Art Commission is responsible for promoting beautification of the city’s public spaces by reviewing the designs of buildings, artworks and memorials on public property. Commissioners serve as volunteers.

Moss said each commissioner on Friday received a phone call notifying them they were being dismissed from the commission. None of them, he said, has spoken directly with the mayor since he took office.

The commission has been involved in a high-profile debate about the Christopher Columbus statue at Schenley Park, which became a controversial landmark as many have questioned whether the explorer with a history of mistreating indigenous people ought to be memorialized.

Earlier this year, commissioners were vocal in their cries for more public input and Art Commission involvement in the redesign of the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh’s Frick Park, which is being rebuilt on an expedited timeline after its collapse in January.

Moss said he was proud of the commission’s involvement in such projects and applauded his fellow commissioners for bringing “diverse expertise with insightful and meaningful reviews of projects that have come before the commission.”

“The commission we have has really tried to look out for the best interest of the citizens and the city as a whole, not looking at the short term but looking at the long term impact of projects,” Moss said. “I hope the new commission approaches it the same way, but obviously we have no idea.”

Montaño did not offer any specific reasons why the administration chose not to keep any existing commissioners on board.

“We want to express our sincere gratitude for your service to the Art Commission,” Director of City Planning Karen Abrams wrote to commissioners in a letter dated Monday that informed them they were being dismissed. “Your commitment to this commission had been invaluable to the city of Pittsburgh and has not gone unrecognized.”

In a social media post that included a screenshot of the letter, Sarika Goulatia, the former Art Commission secretary, said the mayor’s decision to remove all of the commissioners with little explanation “does make me question a lot of stuff.”

“Was being critical of city run projects instrumental in this termination without any meeting with the mayor or his team? Or is it just what every newly elected mayor does?” Goulatia wrote in the Instagram post. “I had wonderful mentors when I was appointed to the Art Commission five years ago and now since the entire commission is dissolved, is the city going to change what role the Art Commission plays?”

Montaño declined to speak to what changes the Art Commission may see as a result of the termination of the existing members.

“The administration is in the process of naming and identifying new members before the January Art Commission meeting,” Montaño said in a statement. “We look forward to having more information to share soon about our vision moving forward.”

The city’s bylaws require that people appointed to the commission meet certain requirements, Moss said. Three members must be architects, one must be a painter and another must be a sculptor. There are two open seats, which can be filled by anyone, Moss said, but they’re usually assigned to a landscape architect or graphic designer.

In addition to Moss and Goulatia, Art Commission members Christiane Leach, Vivian Loftness, Richard Parsakian and Peter Quintanilla were dismissed.

The Art Commission most recently met last Wednesday. They did not have a meeting scheduled for December.

Julia Felton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia by email at jfelton@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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