ASHLAND — A call for artists to submit sculptures to adorn the stairs on Guanajuato Way by Ashland Creek is the latest in the city's efforts to provide and regulate public art.

ASHLAND — A call for artists to submit sculptures to adorn the stairs on Guanajuato Way by Ashland Creek is the latest in the city's efforts to provide and regulate public art.

The city has received no entries yet, but Kevin Christman, sculptor of the bronze statue "Alchemy of Light," is working on an entry comprising a 5-foot-tall array of river rocks mounted in steel bands "like fine jewels," he said.

The competition is open to artists from a 13-county region, in both Oregon and California. Entries must resist weather and vandalism and must have to do with the theme of water. Winners get $500 and their works will be displayed for two years. The art will be dedicated June 5, according to the city's Web site, www.ashland.or.us.

At the same time, a ban on three-dimensional art outside downtown businesses will be revisited when the Planning Commission tonight considers a sheaf of sign code recommendations from a downtown task force. The commission's study session will begin at 7 p.m. in the Civic Center, 1175 E. Main St.

Last summer, a public outcry followed the city's decision to cite more than 30 businesses for having three-dimensional objects in front of stores, including a giant teddy bear at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and a stone lion in front of The Black Sheep.

A downtown task force hammered out proposals to regulate such promotional objects. But the Public Art Commission is urging the Planning Commission not to allow three-dimensional objects, said Melissa Markell, art commission chairwoman.

An art commission letter to planners said Ashland owes its aesthetic beauty largely to the sign code ban on three-dimensional "visual clutter" and, if such objects were permitted, "they could be anything. They could be cool things or really trashy things, like a big hamburger. We have to keep public art outside the sign code."

Christman's statue, which was to be sited outside Soundpeace in fall 2007, was found in violation of the city sign code, and shortly afterward, city officials cited all such objects in town.

The City Council on Jan. 6 approved a new ordinance allowing two-dimensional art on private downtown property, provided the property owners grant an easement to the city, essentially making it public property and under the city's control, Markell said.

"The new ordinance represents seven years of hard work by the Public Art Commission," said Ann Seltzer, city liaison to the commission. "It means exposure to art in everyday life as you walk where you're going. It can bring a smile to one's face and give you pause to think. It's wonderful."

The new ordinance replaced a ban on private art in public spaces that had been in place since the 1970s — and was one of the obstacles faced by Ashland developer Lloyd Haines when he bolted large murals under the Lithia Way overpass behind his office.

The Haines controversy fast-tracked the new ordinance and, with permission from the city and Oregon Department of Transportation in place, Haines plans to remount his exhibit in February, Seltzer said.

Painter Bruce Bayard, a former Public Art Commission member, welcomed the new code.

"In the bigger picture, it's a good move," he said. "A community that looks out for its creative people is going to be a lot better off."

The Public Art Commission in February will ask the City Council to approve an ordinance allowing juried painting of city-owned utilitarian objects around town, such the mundane green utility boxes found between Main and A streets, Seltzer said.

The proposed ordinance would also turn pictures of artwork hung on a 100-yard-long Peace Fence on A Street that was vandalized last summer into 6-by-6-inch vandal-proof "peace tiles," to be fastened to the City Hall external wall on the Plaza, said Seltzer.

Proposals before the Planning Commission tonight also include directional signs for out-of-the-way shops, employee parking during tourist season and "booting" cars with many outstanding parking tickets.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.