The city and artist Sam Yates, the creator of "The Color of Palo Alto" art project, may be close to reaching an agreement on the delivery of a database of 120,000 photos that Yates took of 17,860 Palo Alto properties, nearly five years after it was originally presented to the city.
Elise DeMarzo, staff liaison for the Public Art Commission, which met Feb. 21, said that she's hopeful that by the time the commission meets again on March 21, Yates will have delivered the database.
Yates' project, budgeted to cost $75,000 between 2003 and 2006, was an attempt to find Palo Alto's single, representative "color" by photographing all of the city's land parcels. He then put the photographs together to form a piece of temporary art on the face of City Hall.
Yates presented the database to Mayor Larry Klein on Aug. 5, 2008, so that it could be integrated into the city's geographic-information system to be used by emergency responders and city planners. He took it back immediately after the presentation ceremony to "tweak a few things" and never returned it to the city, according to a staff report.
Yates, who now resides in Canada, wrote in an email to DeMarzo dated Feb. 21 that he has prepared the database of photos, each of which he watermarked, blurred the faces out of, and organized to work well in a geographic information system.
However, before Yates gives the city the database, the two parties must negotiate a licensing agreement for the photos "articulating the City's commitment to preserve and protect the artworks, etc.," he wrote.
DeMarzo said the original contract from Yates was relatively general and that the fate of the database was not spelled out in it. Generally, in commissioned works such as this one the artist retains the copyright, while the city has the right to reproduce the images.
"My goal has been to carefully, deliberately, thoughtfully, make sure the photos have everything necessary in them (GPS coordinates, Project Name, Street Name, Neighborhood Name, etc.) for a historian who encounters them 100 years from now," Yates wrote. "I have accomplished that task, and now we await a written agreement between the City of Palo Alto and myself, acknowledging the City's responsibility as future custodians of this small piece of Silicon Valley history."
Brian George, a board member of the Palo Alto Historical Association who spoke to the commission, said the database had a lot of potential as a historical resource but that he worried it might be diminished by the terms of the contract.
The association already has a bank of more than 13,000 photos, which it uses for local history books and to print out for residents interested in history.
"If you need permission to print each of the photos, they're not very useful at all," he said.
City Council liaison Karen Holman also expressed concern about the watermarks placed on the photos that "are fairly significant" in size but don't fully obscure any of the houses, DeMarzo said.
DeMarzo said Hewlett-Packard Company contributed about $40,000 of the funding. The rest came from the Public Art Commission.
Yates stressed in the email that the project came in $7,000 under budget -- money for which Demarzo said the commission has not been invoiced.
Yates stated that during the project, he was living in a donated car in order to complete the work on a $10,000 budget. The remaining $65,000 was spent to install the photos on the city hall facade, he said.
DeMarzo stated in an email to the Weekly that she was "able to find a record that Sam has been paid $30,000 total. The costs associated with the printing of the (photos for the facade) were paid directly to the imaging company, not to Mr. Yates."
She stated that the money was not all just his fee. It also went to cover the costs for the scooter he rode around on to photograph the properties, the solar garage in front of City Hall where he worked, equipment and software and all costs outside printing.