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Bulletin editorial: City should play minor role in arts commission

Two questions come to mind amid Cottage Grove’s discussion of a new arts commission: What makes an artistically vibrant community? And what would Cottage Grove need to become one?

Like a work of art, the first question is open to interpretation. The second question seems an appropriate discussion topic for the forthcoming arts commission.

Area artists and community theater leaders have been working with the city of Cottage Grove to establish a new commission to help grow the local arts scene. It’s an exciting project, but also one that should remain the work of volunteers with minimal city involvement.

The City Council voted in October to establish the arts commission with many basic questions unanswered: Who would lead it? What will it do? How will members be appointed? Will it even have appointed members? Where should it meet? Why is it needed?

There are a few reasons the city’s role in the arts commission should be limited moving forward. For one, the arts commission’s work, while important to improving the quality of life, is not directly linked to services carried out by the city. Planning, public works, public safety — those are city commissions whose appointed members develop and recommend policies directly related to city government operations. There is no reason an arts commission should need to follow that model.

It’s worth noting, too, that the city rarely is awash with applicants for open positions on its existing commissions. City officials don’t need to struggle to fill yet another commission. Leave that task to the artists and art enthusiasts who want the commission.

The arts commission should not be constrained by city limits either. Many local civic and youth organizations draw members from and hold activities throughout south Washington County, bringing St. Paul Park, Newport and even Grey Cloud Island into the fold. It’d be a short-sighted slight to neighboring communities for the commission to focus on Cottage Grove.

The city could play a minor support role for the commission. It could offer meeting space for the commission, just as it does for other groups. But it does not need to be directly involved in the commission’s operations, from how members are appointed to what issues the group discusses.

Arts enthusiasts who have wanted a way to collaborate and grow the local arts scene now have a blank canvas to work from. The city need not guide their brush strokes.