Would repainting a longstanding work of street art encourage vandalism?
That’s liable to be a big question at Tuesday’s Allegheny County Council meeting, where members will consider whether to enshrine an originally unauthorized piece of street art as an official public art project.
The work is Tim Kaulen’s parade of four goose silhouettes high atop one bright yellow tower of the South Side’s 10th Street Bridge.
Kaulen painted the geese – which some people mistake for dinosaurs -- in the mid-1990s, shortly after the bridge was repainted in 1994. Now, the bridge’s subsequent repainting means that the geese will be sandblasted off. With the renovations underway, Kaulen launched a petition seeking permission from the county to recreate the work.
The petition garnered more than 900 signatures – and the attention of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who sponsored an ordinance authorizing Kaulen to do just that. On Thursday, the bill went before council’s public-works committee, which passed it along to the full council with a “neutral” recommendation. Council will consider the measure at its next meeting, on Tuesday. (Fitzgerald himself took no position on the ordinance.)
If the committee meeting is any indication, expect some opposition over fears that grandfathering in Kaulen’s geese will lead to more unauthorized paintings.
“What we’d be doing is we’d be memorializing street art,” said committee member Sam Demarco. “What type of signal are we sending to the community at large?”
Councilor Sue Means, who is not on the committee but attended the meeting, voiced similar concerns.
Kaulen, who is 52 and lives in Polish Hill, promoted his geese as works that have stood the tests of time and public opinion. He said he would want to restore the birds as public art, not vandalism.
“I feel it’s embraced by all audiences, of all walks of life,” he told the committee. “It’s a very rare acceptance of public art. But when it happens, it really needs to be recognized.”
Committee chair Robert J. Macey joked that he was taking bets on how quickly graffiti will appear on the bridge after it is repainted.
Other questions from the committee included whether restoring the geese would add time or expense to the project, and whether Kaulen would assume liability for mounting the scaffolding to do the work.
Kaulen said he would foot the cost of the project (which he told WESA would be “minimal … and a day’s worth of labor”). Jennifer Liptak, Fitzgerald’s chief of staff, assured the committee that the project wouldn’t require the bridge to be closed for any additional time. Kaulen also said he would be self-insured, although Liptak added that permission would also be required from the contractor on the project.
To pass, the ordinance needs a majority vote from the 15-member council. After the committee meeting, Macy told Kaulen, “You have a little bit of lobbying work to do.”
Kaulen said he planned to contact county councilors to make his case.
The geese, located on the north face of the tower, are currently not visible due to encapsulation of the tower in preparation for sandblasting.
County Council’s next meeting takes place at 5 p.m. Tues., July 10, in the Gold Room of the Allegheny County Courthouse, in downtown Pittsburgh. County residents who wish to comment can request to do so here.
[Editor's Note: This article has been revised to correct a quote that was misattributed in the original.]