Committee hopes to bring history, art to the streets

By: Michelle Miller-Carl Journal News Editor
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How do you tell more than 100 years of history in around a mile-and-a-half of sidewalk? Twelve people are going to try. Those 12 people sit on the Streetscape History and Art Advisory Committee. They’ve been charged with telling Auburn’s story through a history walk along the city’s Streetscape project. Although the first phase in Downtown’s Central Square is nearing completion, the entire project calls for nine phases that span from Old Town and Downtown Auburn and will be completed as funding becomes available. Along that route on both sides of the street will be granite tiles, informational kiosks, interpretive signs and plaques that share Auburn’s history with visitors. “Our committee is in its embryonic stages,” said Keith Nesbitt, who represents the City Council on the committee, which formed last month. “We’re making it up as we go.” The committee will have a vast amount of historical information to draw upon. The challenge will be editing all of Auburn’s history into a common theme. “Within a few meetings we hope to arrive at how to tell the story, whether sequentially, start here and end here, or what happened in particular areas of town,” Nesbitt said. At the committee’s Nov. 18 meeting, members voted to hold off on approving three interpretive signs in the Phase 1 area, instead waiting to see how the signs will fit into the grand plan for a history walk. Committee member Harvey Roper said he’s looking forward to working with the group. “(At our last meeting) it seemed like everyone was at the same table,” he said. “Even after it was over, people were still talking — they weren’t ready to pack up. I think that’s a good sign.” Roper, who is representing the Auburn Endurance Capital Committee, said the committee has been a “mending process” after initial plans to focus the Phase 1 area on endurance-themed history were scrapped. Some members of the public rejected the idea of an endurance theme in Central Square and were angered by what they felt was a lack of public input on the plan. On Sept. 28, the Auburn Urban Development Authority voted to create the history and art advisory committee to develop the history walk for Phase 1 and future phases of Streetscape. Roper hopes the walk will be a place for residents to bring out-of-town guests. He also said the history walk should relate Auburn’s history to today by pointing out old foundations, buildings and landmarks that still exist. Nesbitt said his role on the committee would be to facilitate meetings. He said he doesn’t want it to appear that he’s “skewing” the meetings his way. “I prefaced the (first) meeting with a few ground rules — Don’t ask me too many questions, I’m here to facilitate the meeting and keep you on track,” he said. “The 12 of you are charged with putting this together.” Nesbitt also wants residents to know that everyone can be part of this process. “The public can sit in on the whole meeting — they can be part of it, part of the workgroup,” he said. “I want everyone to realize there are 12 voting members, but if 40 members of the public show up to the meeting everyone’s voice will be heard.” One person who may be at several of those meetings is Carmel Barry-Schweyer. The retired Placer County archivist said the Streetscape committee has a lot of work to do. “All the members of the committee seem energetic. I think it’s a wonderful thing,” she said. “I hope they can come to terms with the enormous task. Choosing what you want to put in a history of Auburn is going to be a pretty big, daunting task in my mind. I think they’re up for it, but it’s bigger than they think.” Barry-Schweyer said she hopes the committee develops a theme for the history walk that can be built upon well into the future. The Streetscape committee would also be deciding themes for artworks and then defer to the Arts Commission on finding the right artists to interpret those themes, Nesbitt said. Any decision made by the committee or arts commission regarding Streetscape would only be a recommendation — the City Council or Urban Development Authority would have to approve of the plans. The committee wouldn’t be dealing with budgets when formulating the history and art plans. “In the end, the monetary stuff is coming out the of Urban Development Authority,” Nesbitt said. The committee is shooting for April to have a finished plan to the City Council, but there’s a lot of work to do before then. “My message to the crowd of 12 of us in there is no one is going to get exactly what they want, but we’ll all make a contribution,” Nesbitt said. “You can’t tell every little facet of Auburn’s story, but you can try to tell as much of it as you can.” Michelle Miller-Carl can be reached at ---------- Streetscape meeting The next Streetscape History and Art Advisory Committee meeting will be at 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, in the Rose Room at City Hall, 1225 Lincoln Way in Auburn. The meeting will be a workshop to arrive at a theme for the history walk.