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November 20. 2013 6:22PM

Executive Council rejects proposal for Bay State artist

CONCORD — If an artist is going paint the state tree in a state office building, that artist should be from New Hampshire, not Massachusetts.

At least that's how two of four executive councilors felt on the question, as they voted against a $12,800 contract for artwork at the Anna Philbrook Center in Concord, forcing the Department of Cultural Resources to go back to the drawing board.

The former treatment facility for troubled youth at 121 S. Fruit St. has been remodeled at a cost of $3.3 million to accommodate more than 80 state employees from various departments, such as the Board of Licensure and Certification, the Governor's Commission on Disability, the Board of Nursing and the Board of Pharmacy.

The relocations began in the first week of November and will continue through December.

As part of the project, money was set aside for artwork and a request for proposals went out in April. According to Van McLeod, Commissioner of Cultural Resources, 13 proposals were received with a variety of ideas, ranging from murals to mosaics, photography to ceramics.

The Percent for Art Selection Committee recommended the work of Margaret Black of Topsfield, Mass., who proposed six pulp paintings on the theme of "transitions." Pulp painting is the technique of applying pigmented pulp into handmade paper as the sheet of paper is being formed.

Each of the six paintings would carry an image of the state tree, the white birch, "from the dawn of spring to late autumn," according to McLeod's explanation to the council.

Councilors Colin Van Ostern, D-Concord, and Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, did not take issue with Black's proposal, only her address.

"Why not a New Hampshire vendor?" asked Van Ostern. "To hire a Massachusetts artist to paint pictures of the New Hampshire state tree in a New Hampshire state building just seems wrong to me."

McLeod explained the criteria used by the committee to evaluate proposals, and the home state of the artist was not among them. Van Ostern has pressed state agencies in the past on his preference for New Hampshire-based vendors for state contracts.

"I understand there are many times where it's appropriate to hire someone from out of state, but in this case, it just feels wrong," he said.

Sununu agreed, and voted with Van Ostern against the contract, while councilors Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua, and Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, voted to support McLeod's recommendation. The 2-2 tie vote meant the proposal was defeated.

After the vote, McLeod was uncertain as to how his office would proceed.

"We're trying to figure that all out," he said. "We'll talk to the Attorney General, Administrative Services and the other people that we deal with to make sure we are doing the right thing."

The commissioner said he understands the councilors' point of view, but also has to deal with regulations regarding interstate commerce. "It's not just about out-of-state people working in New Hampshire, it's about New Hampshire people being able to work in other states as well," he said.

The 2-2 tie came as the council met for the first time after the death of long-time Republican councilor Ray Burton of Bath. A large black bow adorned his chair to the right of the governor, while his picture was in place on his desk in council chambers with a placard reading: "What a difference one life can make."

The council observed a moment of silence after each councilor shared individual memories and reflections. "He was one of the most caring, dedicated, unwavering public servants this state has ever known," said Gov. Maggie Hassan.

In other votes, the council:

• Approved the reappointment of Debra Douglas to the New Hampshire Lottery Commission. Douglas has been on the commission since 2009.

• Approved the nomination of Alice B. Fogel of Acworth as New Hampshire Poet Laureate. Fogel will serve a five-year term beginning January 2014.

"The state's poet laureate serves as an ambassador for all poets in New Hampshire and works to heighten the visibility and value of poetry in the state," according to the Department of Cultural Resources website. Former poets laureate include Donald Hall, Cynthia Huntington, Jane Kenyon and Maxine Kumin.

• Authorized a $1.6 million contract with McFarland-Johnson engineers of Concord for design work to complete the next leg of I-93 expansion, through Bow and Concord, from I-89 through

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