I know some people read this blog to get a sense of the major topics of conversation in Lancaster. I hardly provide day-by-day coverage, but at the same time when something dominates our ongoing “community conversation,” I want to share that. In most cases, I’m forthright with my opinions. In this case, I don’t have strong ones, so I’d like to focus on recapping the current situation.
The sequence of events in this public conversation
As best I can piece together, three weeks ago, on August 11, a mass e-mail went out (from Lancaster Arts, someone suggested, but it’s not on their newsletters archive), with the subject line, “Exciting news for downtown Lancaster!” It contained an announcement of key branding elements to be used in an official capacity by Lancaster city. The guts of this e-mail were shared on LancTalk.com, a privately-run forum site that serves as the replacement for the TalkBack forums on LancasterOnline.com, which were closed earlier this year, by a 46 year-old male who reveals himself only under the code name “Citydweller.” He posted a jpg of the logo and shared that the new tag line was “A city authentic.” The overwhelming tone of the active discussion thread which followed was negative. Early on, someone even remarked that her neighbor thought it looked like a Nazi swastika. (LancTalk.com has mockingly adopted “A forum authentic” as its new tag line.)
Lancaster city held an event this past Wednesday (August 25) at the failed Pennsylvania Academy of Music building to announce officially the new brand identity. Larry Alexander reported on the event for the Intelligencer-Journal. The reaction to the story on LancTalk.com was typical stuff—grumpy and eager to move off-topic.
On or near August 11, Lancaster County resident Shelley Castetter, an independent journalist who runs LancasterExpress.com, began researching what led up to this announcement of the city’s rebranding. This research culminated in an article headlined “City Authentic, Logo Not So Much,” which she published on August 28 as the start of a new thread on the LancTalk forums. This article revealed that the logo is a near-exact reproduction of an early-twentieth-century rose design by Dard Hunter, a key figure in the American Arts and Crafts art movement.
The next day, someone operating under the code name “lilmissmoxieful” posted a video to YouTube demonstrating that the city’s new logo is an exact duplicate of Hunter’s design, simply turned 180 degrees and given a different color. The video cast all the blame on Moxie House, a two-person Lancaster Township-based design/marketing firm that helped the city develop its new brand and codify its new brand standards. Shelley’s article made clear, however, that Moxie House did not create the logo itself.
Instead, Bernie Harris reported for the Intelligencer-Journal yesterday, the logo design was given to Moxie House by city officials. The article made no reference to the earlier work of Larry Alexander, Shelley Castetter, or the response in the LancTalk.com forums. It did, however, include a direct quote from an interview the reporter had with Dard Hunter III, the artist’s grandson:
“I don’t remember anybody asking. Had they done so, I certainly would have given my blessing,” said Hunter, who has previously given permission for the rose’s use for non-commercial purposes.
There was a little reaction to the story on LancTalk.com. Shelley Castetter is clearly offended that her reporting was not cited in the Intelligencer-Journal article.
Where’d the logo come from?
So how did the logo get in the hands of Lancaster city officials? A sign company suggested and provided it for certain signs and banners that have been around town for at least a year. City officials first filed to register a copyright on the image with the U.S. Copyright Office, then opted to instruct Moxie House to use that as the city’s new logo. Even though a trademark on the image (flipped 180 degrees) is held by Dard Hunter Studio, the copyright office apparently approved the city’s request to register its copyright of the image. (I can only assume that if it went to court, the court would view this as an error on the part of the copyright office and overturn Lancaster city’s claim to owning any rights related to the image.)
I poked fun at the situation last night by uploading to Facebook an version of the full logo where the words “The City of Lancaster: A City Authentic” remained in tact but the logo had been replaced by an orange Nike swoosh turned 180 degrees.
Kelly Watson (soon to be Kelly Kautz) posted a thoughtful blog entry on the subject this morning, followed by a post this afternoon including quotes from her conversation with Deb Brant of Moxie House.
The city has now added a PDF to the brand page of its site declaring, “The rose graphic was created by artist Dard Hunter and is used with permission.”
What I’m finding most interesting and inspirational is this bit from the city’s “brand toolbox“(pdf) which advocates the use of particular terms that are seen as brand-consistent. One of the terms is “civic dialogue,” and here’s what the “toolkit” says about it: “An aspirational trait, civic dialogue is an exciting opportunity for our city. Generally defned, ‘Civic dialogue creates conditions for people to participate in shaping their environment. It is intentional and purposeful. Civic dialogue explores the dimensions of the civic or social issue, working toward common understanding in an open-ended discussion. It engages multiple perspectives on an issue, including potentially conficting and unpopular ones rather than promoting a single point of view.'” The quotes is attributed to Ruth J. Abram, founder of New York’s Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
So, a) what did I miss or get wrong, and b) what do you make of all this?
Edit: Oh, and apparently there’s a song to go with this brand identity.
Edit 2: You’ll notice I prefer to use “Lacaster city” rather than “the City of Lancaster.” I’m unlikely to get brand-consistent on that one.