News

Commission throws support, cash behind City Hall art

The Public Art Commission votes to commit $25,000, looks to raise at least $250,000

The city's Public Art Commission committed an initial $25,000 on Thursday night to support bringing a new media art project to City Hall's lobby, which is scheduled for renovations beginning in January or February.

Although the commission voted to allocate $25,000 from this year's budget to match the same amount in percent-for-art funds from lobby-construction costs, commissioners considered but hesitated approving an additional $25,000 from next year's budget, as staff had recommended. Most of the commission voiced concerns about rushing into committing half of its annual budget to one project with a constricted timeframe.

"I'm not concerned about doing a fabulous piece of art in City Hall, but at this point I have hesitancy on committing half of our budget to this one piece of art without further information that as a group, this is what we want to pledge half of our money toward," said Commission Chair Larisa Usich.

"Committing $25,000 is sort of like going to Vegas," echoed Commissioner Kathleen Kavanaugh.

Staff estimated that an interactive, technology-based project of this nature would cost $250,000, though projects with budgets as much as $850,000 were also cited. With $75,000 total, the commission now has to pitch the idea to other city departments and look for outside funding -- all by January or February.

"Time is of the essence," said Public Art Manager Elise DeMarzo, urging the commission to make what is not only a financial but also a symbolic commitment to show other departments that the commission supports the project. She stressed the importance of getting an artist on board early so the project is incorporated into the lobby rather than added as a last-minute afterthought.

A staff report states that the City Hall lobby, a "long dormant space," must be updated into an interactive community space that's more open to the public, engaging and exciting.

"New media allows for access to content anytime, anywhere, on any digital device, as well as promotes interactive feedback, participation, and community creation around the media content," the document states. "A truly interactive new media artwork can take many forms -- from streaming information about trending Twitter feeds in the area, allowing residents to contribute information digitally to the artwork, or reflecting back visual information gathered from the Community."

There's no consensus yet on the specifics of the project, but the commission has looked at various examples of new media installations -- a light sculpture that responds to the physical presence of people looking at it or a digital piece that captures details of onlookers, such as fingerprints, voice pattern, eye detail or even heart rate, and then displays them, creating a pattern that moves across a wall.

Commissioner Ben Miyaji said this could be the "stepping-off point" for Palo Alto to do more impactful public art projects of this nature.

However, the commission's council liaison, Karen Holman, said she's nervous about rushing into a project for City Hall in particular.

"I think there's a higher level of responsibility with this project than maybe any other project that you might be looking at for a period time just because it is City Hall," she said.

Holman added that a project for City Hall, "the public's ultimate space," also necessitates doing public outreach. The commission agreed, talking about the possibility of holding a public meeting.

"While I'm a supporter of public art, and I want to be sure to support public art, and I want to support this project, I'm not sure that we have the justification to know why $250,000 is the magic number," said Commissioner Kathleen Kavanaugh. "...do we know that any of those artists are going to want to do an installation here? Do we have any idea of the real cost of what it would be? There's just a lot of questions to do that."

DeMarzo said that all of these questions can be more concretely answered after committing funding. Staff will immediately put out a call for artists, ask them for budget estimates and more detailed plans and start meeting with other departments as early as next week to start raising the remaining funds.

"What happens if you don't raise the rest of that money?" Commissioner Ally Richter asked DeMarzo. "Or do you feel confident that were going to get the rest of the budget?"

"We feel pretty confident that we can raise an impactful budget to be able to do a new media piece," DeMarzo said. "If we don't raise enough funds to do it, then they're not committed."

Richter was the only commissioner who voted against approving the funds. Commissioner Amanda Ross was absent.

Correction: The article has been revised to correct the amount of funding that the commission approved. The amount is $25,000, not $50,000.

Comments

Posted by Art lover, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 18, 2013 at 11:02 am

NO, NO,NO! Money collected from developers for any reason should go to pay for parking, either on-site or in new underground garages. And who decides what's art? So far what's chosen is terrible.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 18, 2013 at 12:14 pm

There isn't a single piece of public art in Palo Alto that isn't laughably bad. And to throw good money after bad in these tough financial times is sickening.


Posted by member, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 18, 2013 at 7:29 pm

The Weekly I got today talked about a bond issue for structural upgrades. Last Monday night the CC committed $250K in discretionary funds for the homeless project. So money is flying out the door for anything but what the bond issue would address - the essential fixes that need to be made. And now you are asking the artist to spend money in the anticipation of an award. Do we expect to see an article in the Mercury the puts the fix in here so that the CC needs to put the money up to save face?
The first thing that needs to be done is to assess what the city has as a priority and how much is available for it and let the people make some input here. It is like a group of people that need to justify their jobs by continually bringing up new schemes rather than managing the requirements we have on the table now. Like when is the new community center going to open - that is an unfinished effort. I am sure that more money is need to get this city commitment opened.


Posted by art lover, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 18, 2013 at 7:48 pm

It seems the committee that selects Palo Alto art, is not a good committee. The selection has been very sad, just
like what Los Altos has been putting on their downtown streets. Perhaps we could have new judges, ones that
are in the art field. The art you are talking about for the lobby of the City hall will not be seen by most people. How about getting a "good " sculpture for outside city hall in the big open space.


Posted by Jill, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 18, 2013 at 8:42 pm

OMG! Please, no more hideous public art. I cringe every time I drive down California Avenue and see the public art. What a joke. Who are the incompetents that select the art for this town?? They need to be axed, just like the Architectural Review Board, the City Manager and the City Council. Ignorance, incompetence and corruption abound in Palo Alto's city hall.


Posted by PA007, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 18, 2013 at 8:56 pm

A way to spend! Sometimes moving the furniture around the city will do as well.


Posted by The fools you know , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2013 at 10:02 am

The PAC must be peopled by either blind members, tasteless members, members with no,art education whatsoever, members who do not wish to represent the population they serve, or members with no priorities at all.

The city needs no more art, especially silly and tasteless art that is simply unwanted.

We NEED wider, improved roadways, more parking spaces, with meters if necessary, and more traffic control. We DO NOT need any esoterica!

Get real and get a grip!


Posted by Mark Weiss , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2013 at 1:12 pm

For $850,000 we may be able to get Sam Yates. He's good with new media; he's good with new math. It would be fun to turn all 8 floors of 250 Hamilton into some type of temporary -- for the next couple years at least -- installation art with people pretending to push papers around and acting inscrutably -- like something in a Tom Stoppard play or based on Guy DeBord -- and then figure out a way to let certain well-connected or frankly desperate computer or social media firms put their twist on this and showcase their private enterprises and gadgets at our expense. Maybe some people will not even notice the difference, if it's done well (and I mean very droll).

Or have we already been doing this?


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