Samuel Yates, the creator of the "Color of Palo Alto" art project, paid a surprise visit Thursday night to the Public Art Commission meeting, where he presented his side of a conflict with the city over the use of a database of photos he took nearly a decade ago.
The city commissioned Yates in 2003 to find Palo Alto's single, distinctive "color" by photographing all of the land parcels in the city and blending the hues together to discover the "color of Palo Alto."
He also stitched the photos together to form a piece of temporary art to cover the wall of city hall.
A result of the project was a database 20,339 photos of 17,729 properties in Palo Alto, which Yates said he offered to the city as "a gift." He presented it to the city during a ceremony in 2008 so 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 watermark the photos, attach global-positioning data to them and figure out their licensing. He told the Weekly that this retrieval had been arranged ahead of time and that the ceremony was meant to be symbolic.
More than four years later, Yates hasn't turned the database over to the city. He said his main concerns about delivering the database are the preservation of his art, ensuring it has a long-term place in the city's collection and receiving the full compensation to which he believes he's entitled.
Yates said his original contract for $10,000 was to take the pictures and create a piece of art. He said it stated that licensing of the photos by the City of Palo Alto for uses such as its global-information system or public library would be determined on a case-by-case basis. In essence, he said the contract did not include the database and that he was giving it to the city as a gift.
The project cost a total of about $75,000, more than half of which was paid for by a grant from Hewlett-Packard Co. Yates completed the project $7,000 under budget but didn't receive the remaining money.
He said he wasn't interested in pursuing the $7,000 but stressed that he had fulfilled his contract and that the money, which he said would be used solely for the next phase of the art, shouldn't be withheld by the city to get the database, which wasn't part of the original contract.
"I'd like to know if the city really means not to pay the remainder owed because I brought this free gift -- a bonus to the city," he said of the database.
He said the city's offer for licensing the photos required that he waive all rights for the photos.
A second contract for putting the mass of pictures onto the front of city hall and then later taking them down accounted for the remaining $65,000 of the total cost of the project.
He said it had been difficult to complete the several-year project on a budget of essentially $10,000, saying that he often had to sleep in his car, borrow an art commissioner's computer and office space to work on the project late at night and "many other adventures" during the production of "The Color of Palo Alto."
"I had to pay for it, and I'll be paying for it for the rest of my life that was seven years that I didn't earn a salary," he said.
Yates, who to the commission he wanted "to return everyone back to the fun spirit of the project," said he would like to work with the city to make sure that it "preserved the integrity of the photos in reasonable way," suggesting as an example that they be used for the city's purposes but not cropped.
Since his comments before the commission were unscheduled and presented during a discussion of an unrelated issue, his speaking time was limited and the commission could not take any action.
Yates, who resides in Canada, told the Weekly in a Friday morning interview that he was in town to negotiate the licensing of the database next week and that he was very optimistic he and the city would come to an agreement.
The artist and city staff have been trying to reach an agreement over the past year over the licensing and the delivery of the database. In March 2012, the city attorney's office had sent Yates a letter requesting that he submit the database within 30 days. Yates did not meet this deadline, saying he still has concerns about use and licensing of the photos.