This week, we take a listen back to some of the spiciest, most compelling, and most art-filled interview segments in the past several months. If you have a friend who you’ve been dying to introduce to the magic of city council meetings, sit ’em down and have them listen to this!
Brandon Chapman is a first-term council member and (apparently) a seasoned art critic. We explored his opinions on utility box paintings and discussed what he is still getting used to in the council meetings.
Q: Brandon, from what I understand, you are a longtime listener of the podcast, including before you ran for city council. Is that right?
A: That is correct. I’ve always had this interest in all things municipal. I don’t even know what I googled or what I put into the iTunes search. So I started listening and I thought, he’s bringing the humor, which is important. And of course, really good interviews. Plus me! It’s truly comforting to realize that my city is not nearly as dysfunctional as some other ones.
Q: I wouldn’t call any city dysfunctional. They are all like my children in that I would give them all up for adoption if I could. But what has City Council Chronicles meant to you as a council member? And I’d ask that if you are going to cry, please do it directly into the microphone.
A: Right. You’re listening to them and they’re coming up with the same kind of issues that maybe your city is facing, but they’re tackling it from a different way. And you hear something and you’re like, “oh, I’m not sure I ever thought about that. But maybe that’s a possible solution!” So for me, it is a huge educational opportunity. You could even call it a professional development opportunity for city council members.
Q: Recently in a meeting, you guys selected artwork to go on utility boxes. Is that normal city council business in Pullman?
A: Yeah, I wasn’t expecting to become an art expert overnight! It was a crash course. And I think I’ve learned quite a bit. We got to move toward even evaluating the art–that was a real shock to me. We only have one utility box that’s wrapped. It was decided that they looked ugly. It looked better than just the metallic, just the gray. But it was also, you know, very lifeless, I thought. And so this call was put out [to artists] and I was fully expecting that there would just be a presentation, but they asked the council’s opinion.
Q: For this first painting, “Woman Who Travels,” you said it would make a nice mural. Do you still believe that?
A: Yeah, in order to understand this, you need to see every part of this painting, of this drawing. And if you wrap it around a utility box, I don’t think it’s going to leave the viewer with enough to come up with their own definition of what it means to them. To me, I started looking at this thinking, a recognition that I’m still growing. Have to understand things like white privilege and male dominance and patriarchy.
Q: The painting most council members seemed to approve of was “Starry Lentils.” First of all, I thought “Starry Lentils” was another porn star who had an affair with the president. But it is this landscape of Eastern Washington. It is super colorful!
A: It’s obvious artistry that’s borrowed from Vincent Van Gogh, from “Starry Night.” Van Gogh painted from behind the window of this asylum and that almost alluded to a detachment or a loneliness. There’s a world out there, but it’s untouchable. And the starry lentils would be, it’s in the open. There’s nothing holding you back. The world is for your taking.
Q: Were there any council members who gave their opinions on the art and you were like, “ew, is that your taste? I’m never going with you to pick out wallpaper!”
A: Well actually, I think most of the council members had the same opinion. So they’re a bunch of copycats! I started it! I was the first one.
“I’ve sorta got it figured out,” mused Mayor Glenn Johnson after the roll call was complete. “If I start with ‘present,’ then everyone else goes ‘here.’ And if I go with ‘here,’ everyone goes ‘present!’”
It was an intriguing conspiracy theory–made even more intriguing when no one issued any denial. But what was undeniable was that the mayor’s booming radio voice made his mundane announcement about the Irish Feast twice as tantalizing.
“They have corned beef and cabbage, salad, hot bread, pie, and coffee for a mere seven bucks,” Johnson rattled off in a cadence not heard since the days of Cronkite.
“Dave at one time went to Ireland just to get the right corned beef recipe,” he gave an avuncular nod. “And the pie is top of the line, I’ll tell you that.”
Before I could even reserve my tickets for the Irish Feast, the mayor added with sizzle, “with that, it’s time now for arts in Pullman!”
“This is a picture of our fab new building,” the art museum director bragged, flashing the looming structure onscreen for the room to admire. She then lasered in on her main purpose: to get the council on board with a creative district in downtown Pullman.
“I’m hoping that with the Downtown Coug–I’m calling it the Downtown Coug. It’s not the official name,” she cautioned. (It was probably for the best; “Downtown Coug” is, I suspect, a type of fetish I am not willing to Google.)
“I don’t know personally if I’m 100 percent [for] making Pullman an ‘arts district,’” Councilmember Al Sorensen winced.
“It’s a creative district,” the museum director gestured excitedly. “If it was just about art, I’d be out there throwing statues up. You know me!”
She added, “we’re moving away from coal. We’re moving away from gas. We don’t have the Big Five anymore. We don’t have cars.”
Wow, I had no idea Pullman was once a coal-gas-carmaking hub. By all means, reinvent yourselves! Councilmember Ann Parks heartily agreed.
“We don’t really have an identity in our town and I think it could be something we could be known for.”
But I would argue that Pullman, as of this writing, already has an identity: as the home of politicians moonlighting as art critics.
“In 2016, we wrapped the utility box that you see here in the photo with art,” a staffer explained, displaying a colorful photo of the masterpiece. “And we have gotten just rave reviews about that!”
But two more utility boxes were in line for a makeover and the council would now get to review the cream of the crop submissions.
“The colors appear a little more muted than they actually are in the art,” she hedged as council stared at the vivid landscape titled “Starry Lentils.”
“I like the drawings more than I like the photography. I think that we have more possibility to make it pop,” noted Councilmember C. Brandon Chapman. “I like the ‘Starry Lentils.’ I think that could be just cheerful.”
“When the artist says he likes people to come up close, we’ve already had a utility box hit by a car,” quipped the mayor to laughter.
The staffer nodded after noting council member preferences. “Okay, so we have very strong direction on ‘Lentils.’”
“That’d be a great mural!” exclaimed Chapman, pointing to a black and white pictorial of a woman in various costumes. “That’d be really fantastic on one of these spaces where we just have a lot of concrete. I think you could tell a story better that way than if it were wrapped.”