By Michele Bernard, TSB Lifestyle Editor
“I’ve been lucky. I’ve been able to pursue the things that I’m interested in,”
— McKinney Arts Commission Chair Linda Spina.
On this day, Spina takes the time to sit down and discuss her love for art, community service, and how those two things have brought us together to discuss McKinney’s Public Art Master Plan over a cup of coffee. The plan, slated to be submitted to city council for approval sometime in the near future, will eventually allow fun alleyscape murals to peak between buildings in McKinney’s downtown area, and beautiful sculptures to delight Towne Lake joggers and walkers.
For the past 17 years Spina, along with her husband and son, have called McKinney home. “My dad worked for an oil company,” says Spina. “I was born in Indiana. We lived in the Midwest, southern California, Connecticut, Houston. We moved around the country.”
While Spina holds a technical undergraduate degree in computer science from the school of engineering at Southern Methodist University, she credits her love for art to her natural curiosity and her mother’s influence. “I don’t have art history in my background,” she says. “My mother painted and my son enjoys art as well.”
After enjoying a long career in software sales that saw her traveling extensively, Spina now stays closer to home devoting time to serving the community she now calls home. But even before retirement from busy corporate responsibilities, community service still called her name.
“Shortly after I graduated from college, I was a sorority alumni advisor,” says Spina, “I had a heart for helping young women figure out how to get into the business world. I also volunteer at church, things like that. It’s a nice way to connect with your community.”
In addition to serving as the current chair of the city’s art commission, Spina is also a member of the Women’s Council of the Dallas Arboretum.
“When I looked at where I might want to volunteer my time, I thought about what I might really enjoy. I was interested in doing something arts related,” says Spina. “It just so happened that I had a conversation with [McKinney mayor] Brian Loughmiller about ways I might contribute to the city. Then, just out of now where a position happened to come open on the arts commission. I applied and became a part of it.”
Spina has served as a member of the arts commission for the past three years and was appointed chair in the summer of 2011. The commission was established in January 2005 to serve in an advisory capacity to the city council and make recommendations concerning arts-releated resources and needs for the community.
“When the arts commission began,” says Spina, “the primary mission was to support our arts non-profits. That is still a primary mission.”
According to Spina, the vast majority of where the arts commission spends its money goes to granting funds to 501c3 non-profit art organizations.
“As a matter of fact,” says Spina, “The [grant] process is starting soon for this coming fiscal year. Grant applications will be online April 17.”
Anyone interested in applying for an arts commission grant will be required to attend a mandatory meeting slated to take place in late May. Presentations will happen in August, with the commission making decisions and granting funds shortly thereafter.
“The only restriction [applicants] will have is whatever their event is, they have to have it within the city of McKinney, and the grant money can’t pay for more than 50% of the project.”
Approximately two years ago, the McKinney arts commission expanded its focus on non-profits and granting to include attention toward public art.
“It was brought to the attention of council that McKinney didn’t really have a public art policy while other cities did,” says Spina. “We were asked to look into this. We did our research, and when we went to the other cities and saw what they were doing, we ended up writing a public art program. But, in terms of funding, it was felt that on the funding piece, the majority of [the program] would need to be funded by donations either from corporations or by individuals because of the economic uncertainty of the time.”
According to Spina, there are approximately 40 pieces of public art already in place, including McKinney’s oldest piece, the Throckmorton statue that sits on the northeast side of the McKinney Performing Arts Center. The statue honoring Texas governor, Congressman, and McKinney citizen James W. Throckmorton (1825-1894) was commissioned by the Federation of Women’s Clubs of McKinney and erected by the community in 1911. The piece was created by Italian-born sculptor Pompeo Luigii Coppini (1870-1957) whose work can also be found in Italy, Mexico, and throughout the United States, with the vast majority of his pieces found in the Lone Star state.
Other current installations also include “The Basics” by J. Anthony Atkins, found at the Alex Clark Disc Golf Course, commemorating the memory of Alex Clark, the 17-year-old McKinney High School student who passed away in 2000. Also, citizens can enjoy “Infinity” by Khang Pham-new, located at the Valiance Bank situated at Hwy. 121 at 5900 S. Lakeforest Dr.
“One of the things [the arts commission] really recommended was that the city undertake a public art master plan,” Spina says. “Early last year, council asked us to request funding for it from the McKinney Community Development Corporation. So, we requested funding for consultants to come and help us with it.”
The arts commission then moved forward with a request for proposal process that resulted in the hiring of Meridith McKinley of Via Partnership from St. Louis, Missouri, and Todd W. Bressi. Then, in April 2012, the research began.
The arts commission, along with McKinley and Bressi, looked at planning documents in terms of where the city is going to grow, short-term capital plans and locations where opportunities for public art might exist. They conducted interviews with major stakeholders including all members of the city council, developmental service organizations, the parks department, and even the former sustainability department.
“The consultants recommended that, in addition to the arts commission, we also have an advisory panel that includes key members from various parts of the community,” says Spina, “So, somebody from parks was on the advisory commission, a senior planner was on the advisory commission, a representative from Main Street. We wanted to make sure we were connecting with everybody.”
“I am so excited that we did what we did because the process is so very thorough,” said Spina. “I also think that the recommendations that [the consultants] came up with were wonderful. I don’t think we could have gotten there on our own. I think we would have had something fairly predictable in a fairly predictable place. I think they really helped us take a broader view. It was really an exceptional process.”
In the course of the research portion, Spina participated in weekly conference calls, in meetings and tours of public art sites with neighboring cities and in engaging the arts community and citizens for input and ideas.
“We held an Imagine Art Here workshop in the fall,” saysSpina, “We invited the community to come to MPAC and be a part of the process. We had about 40 people there. The Alleyscapes project came out of that [workshop].”
The work of the commission, consultants and community crystallized in the form of two documents: the City of McKinney Public Art Master Plan, and the City of McKinney Public Art Administrative Guidelines. At this writing, both documents are in completed draft form, awaiting city council approval.
In the draft of the City of McKinney Public Art Master Plan, the executive summary states the following vision for McKinney Public Art Program: “Create innovative artistic experiences that strengthen gathering places for McKinney residents, reinforce the high quality and uniqueness of the City’s built and natural environment, and set McKinney apart as a place to visit, live and do business.”
While the master plan, designed to be good for at least the next five years, outlines and defines the three central principles the community holds as important for public art, community place-making, civic design, and tourism and economic development, the City of McKinney Public Art Administrative Guidelines outlines procedural elements.
“They were presented to council February 19 for them to consider,” Spina says. “No action was taken.”
Pending approval, and fundraising, the arts commission is ready and eager to move forward with the near-term projects born of the past year’s process. Alleyscapes will be the first project at hand, with a Towne Lake Recreations Area Sculpture Trail following.
The Alleyscapes project will feature beautiful murals in the alleys between remote parking areas and the historic downtown area.
“We are just excited about it,” said Spina. “I think it is very affordable. I think it is do-able. I think there is an opportunity for the community to participate in both the theme of the alleyscape mural as well as in other ways, like picking up a paint brush and painting the background blue [for example]. This really is an opportunity to get the whole community together for public art.
“Once we get approval from council and get funding in place, then we will start to look for specific locations and work on contacting building owners. Then, we can move forward with a call for artists, a request for qualifications and get that whole process going.”
Looking forward, Spina says she thinks McKinney has a tremendous opportunity to make an already thriving art scene an even more vibrant part of the community. “It is so exciting to see things coming through the arts commission, through the city and through the things that are grass roots,” she says. “We need all of it to do whatever we can as a community to make the city even more vibrant from an arts perspective.”
Spina admits to having millions of ideas but knows it is a one step at a time process. “We don’t want to start more projects than we can complete,” she says.
Spina sees a future that includes thriving, well-funded non-profit organizations, beautiful works of public art, and maybe even artist-in-residence programs, internships for art history students, and tighter collaborations with Collin College. But first things first.
“I think the next thing we need to do is do a good job on our first public art project.,” Spina says. “Then, do a good job on the next. Prioritize and execute. Then do a good job, and do a good job and do a good job.”
Photos courtesy of Linda Spina courtesy of Linda Spina. Photos of “The Basics” and “Infinity” by Linda Spina.
Towne Lake Park photo courtesy of Destination McKinney and by Beth Shumate