ENCINITAS — The Arts Alive banner exhibit, which started with the intentions as a tribute to the late city council member Maggie Houlihan, who passed away from cancer in September, and was one of the town’s biggest supporters of local artists, has become mired in controversy.
Danny Salzhandler, coordinator of the project, said DEMA got pressure from elected officials not to put the banners up. A call to the City Manager’s office was not returned.
“We had a banner with Maggie’s picture at the street fair (in November),” he said. “Apparently some people saw it and thought it was political,” he said. “But everybody knew about it, it was even in the paper,” Salzhandler said.
Salzhandler said more than 100 banners with a sketch of Houlihan on the backside of the banner were given out to participating artists weeks ago. “A situation that started with the best of intentions and now it’s turned into a real bad scene,” he added.
DEMA sent a letter to the artists last week asking them to return the banners. DEMA has also pulled the permit from the city to hang banners along Coast Highway from La Costa Ave. to Cardiff’s restaurant row.
“A lot of the artists have already started them. Sponsors have already paid for a four month program. Getting new banners ordered in time won’t be possible,” Salzhandler said.
The Arts Alive banner exhibit is a joint effort by the 101 Artists Colony, DEMA, Cardiff 101 Mainstreet and Leucadia Mainstreet. In its thirteenth year, Salzhandler said the participating artists are an exceptionally talented group.
Salzhandler said he is disheartened and surprised by the recent events surrounding the banners.
When asked if it was appropriate to put the image of a politician on city owned property Salzhandler replied, “She’s certainly not a political figure anymore.”
Laurie Michaels and her husband, Harry Couglar were among Houlihan’s many friends who raised money through t-shirt sales to fund the banners with the councilwoman’s image. “We are stunned,” Michaels said. “We did this as a tribute.”
Michaels said placing the sketch of Houlihan’s image on the banners makes perfect sense. “This (Arts Alive banner program) was one of Maggie’s favorite community arts programs,” she said. “We’re all perplexed.”
“We voted as a board to pull our permit in response to a request from the 101 Artists Colony so they could submit their own permit request,” said new DEMA board of director’s president Treggon Owens. “We asked the city in a letter on Dec. 6 to pull our permit,” he said. “We want to push the city forward and do things that make the city better,” Owens said.
“I never expected to have this kind of reaction to having the picture of a woman on a banner,” Salzhandler said. He’s hopeful that the new permit will be approved in time for the Feb. 4 unveiling. “I thought Encinitas had more character than this, and I guess I was wrong.”