News

Palo Alto expands public-art program

City to apply 'percent for art' to private developments

Palo Alto's vocal art critics will soon have plenty to cheer, jeer, laugh and complain about thanks to the City Council's decision on Tuesday to greatly expand the city's public-art program.

By an 8-0 vote, with Councilman Pat Burt absent, an enthusiastic council voted to create a public-art requirement for new commercial and residential developments. Under the new rule, new commercial developments that are greater than 10,000 square feet and that have a construction cost of $200,000 or more will have to contribute 1 percent of the construction cost for public art before they get approved. The 1 percent rule will also apply to residential projects of five units or more.

The new program greatly expands the current "percent for the art" program, which applies only to public construction projects. In developing it, city staff reviewed similar programs from about 50 California cities that require private developers to chip in for public art. San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland are among cities that have comparable public-art programs, while Santa Monica now requires a 2 percent contribution for art.

The council approved the sweeping change with much gusto and little debate, following the recommendation of its Policy and Services Committee. Councilwoman Liz Kniss, who chairs the committee, said the program will "set new standards" for local art.

"A city really reflects its soul by its art," Kniss said. "Even though, as we discussed it, people have different ideas of what the soul looks like."

The city is no stranger to controversy when it comes to public art. Its existing collection includes an eclectic mix of abstract, surreal and downright bizarre, including the egg-shaped, silicon-coated "Digital DNA" sculpture at Lytton Plaza; the "Go Mama" sculpture on California Avenue, which features a cartoonish face, long eyelashes and a torso consisting of of a baby's head; and the "Body of Urban Myth" fountain in Sheridan Plaza in which a nude figure is hoisting a washing machine over her head.

The council acknowledged Tuesday that some new art projects will surely be controversial. Councilman Marc Berman welcomed the debate.

"Having grown up in a house that had a lot of eclectic art, I know how subjective art will be sometimes," Berman said. "I'm sure we'll hear a lot of complaints from the community about what they're upset about. I look forward to those conversations because it's art. That's part of it."

The new program will allow developers to choose between installing public art at the site of the project or contributing an "in lieu" fee for art, which would be collected and spent on larger art projects such as "gateways and high traffic spaces; community-based art projects; rotating exhibitions of temporary public art; and other creative place-making events," according to a staff report.

All designs for public art would be reviewed by the Public Art Commission. Developers wishing to place art on the development site will also be required to meet for a consultation with a public art program manager before proceeding with the approval process.

Under the city's most conservative estimate, the program would bring in about $275,000 in art projects over the next three years. But with development activity on the rise, the figure could be in the millions. According to the staff report, the new ordinance "may generate as much as $2 million for public art in the first three years of implementation."

Of these funds, at least $200,000 could be used to pay for the expanded program, including project management.

In a report, staff argued that facilitating more art will help differentiate Palo Alto from other cities, "as similar developments move into each community."

"Finding a balance between our economic development needs and the soul of our community is a creative challenge," the report states. "Palo Alto wants to preserve its sense of its own history and destiny. By implementing percent for art into our development process now, Palo Alto can ensure that we can preserve our cultural and artistic heritage and create new ways to express ourselves as a community."

Comments

Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 13, 2013 at 10:32 am

Anyone else think the first sentence in this article is just trolling for whiners?

I don't love every single piece of public art in this city, but I do enjoy enough of it to want to keep this program going. It does make the streets more interesting, especially if you are a pedestrian and can stop to study the individual pieces.


Posted by Maria, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 13, 2013 at 11:49 am

I am all for the more art concept - and perhaps we could reinstall the wooden Friends that used the sit facing Embarcadero and got put in storage a few years ago?


Posted by Sylvia, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 13, 2013 at 12:33 pm

This is great news! Public art is wonderful. I particularly love murals; but, unlike a lot of people, I like "Go Mama". Art is so subjective. She makes me smile!


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 13, 2013 at 12:48 pm

This shakedown by the publics arts commission (which is driving this turkey) is reflective of the mindset of our current city council. No doubt that it will also contribute to the mindset of the elites that PC zoning will be supported, because they like to make a statement about "art" (whatever that is)...and such "art" is considered to be a public benefit.

This turkey is a tax, period.


Posted by artist, a resident of another community
on Nov 13, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Palo Alto and Stanford have one of the best collections of public sculpture in the world. It is one of the things that distinguishes this place and is an endeavor that ought to recognized as a high value to the community. Continuing to support it is a wise move by the City Council.

Oh, I forgot this is the Town Square forum. I'm reminded that at one point we had an opportunity to have a sculpture by Bruce Beasley at the end of California Avenue by the train tracks. He's only one of the most well-regarded contemporary living sculptors, with work in major collections around the world. "But a fountain would be nicer...."

Cue the "this is a waste of our money" haters.....


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 13, 2013 at 3:33 pm

>Cue the "this is a waste of our money" haters.....

Include me in this group. Would someone please provide a single example of PA public art "that distinguishes this place and is an endeavor that ought to recognized as a high value to the community"? There are couple of pieces that I rather like, most though are trivial, austere, cynical, etc. On balance, it is all a waste of taxpayer money.

Self-defined 'artists' should not be given access to the taxpayers' money. It is a train wreck. And it is a tax, period.


Posted by Jeff, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 13, 2013 at 5:41 pm

If Palo Alto needs to become more beautiful/artistic or do more to remain that way establish zoning and rules that are always enforced. If you don't believe workable regulations can be agreed to, find a voting minority to pay for it... oh that's what the 1% for art is doing.

I agree with C Laughton that self-defined artists and art lovers should not be given access to the taxpayers' money.


Posted by Julie, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 13, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Very exciting for Palo Alto. Important to make this City an interesting destination, beyond tech companies. Let tech bring them to town, but have the museums, art center and public art make them want to come back.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Of course the concept of a public art program is good. The problem in
Palo Alto is the execution. Similarly "design review" is good but look at the execution by the ARB. If The Cheesecake Factory on University Ave is
approved, do we have "design review"? Or 801 Alma? No. If we approve
"Go Mama" for California Ave do we have public art? No. We have something
else on California Ave. It does not qualify as public art or as artistic. The notion of "subjectivity" has boundaries and cannot be used for blanket approval of literally anything.

The assertion in the staff report that "Palo Alto wants to preserve its sense of its own history and destiny" is an absolute joke in the context of what has taken place here in the last ten years in terms of the destruction
of the City and its character.


Posted by David, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2013 at 8:15 am

The continuation of 'Art in Inappropriate Places' will continue. Can the art commission at least limit the wierd art generated by LSD and other hallucinogens?


Posted by anon, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 14, 2013 at 10:39 am

" ….create new ways to express ourselves as a community."

Hows about expressing ourselves by creating two beautiful landscaped traffic circles in College Terrace?

Certainly landscaping is defined as an art.

We were promised landscaped circles when we voted them in……

If this amounts to a Tax as other posters have suggested at least let the taxpayers have a say in how the funds are allocated!


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2013 at 12:31 pm

@anon
The traffic circles on Everett Downtown have never been landscaped-
no tiles, nothing.


Posted by anon, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 14, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Quote from article:

"According to the staff report, the new ordinance "may generate as much as $2 million for public art in the first three years of implementation."

!!! hope springs eternal for DTN/DTS traffic circles as well!


Posted by Bart, a resident of Mayfield
on Nov 14, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Palo Alto has vocal art critics for a reason! When ever the Palo Alto Art Commission wanders about town, it periodically squats and leaves behind what it calls "public art".


Posted by Mr Hankey the xmas poo, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 14, 2013 at 9:27 pm

I am deeply offended that I am confused with "public art" in Palo Alto.


Posted by Kelly SC, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 21, 2013 at 9:20 am

As a professional fine artist since 1996, I find it incredibly crude and backwards that some here say to not give some of tax payers money towards this art program. Art is such an important part of who we are as humans. It helps to enrich and give life to a community. I do agree that the art chosen should be more beauty enhancing with some thought-provoking accents rather than chosen soley as any provocative catalyst. Take a look at Scottsdale, AZ's public art program to see this arrangement really being an enhancer.
I am an artist who has worked on several public works throughout the west. I see how it has enhanced the community. But I believe the work should be chosen not to "stand out" provocatively, but utilyzed to beautify and enhance our lives.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 21, 2013 at 2:38 pm

>As a professional fine artist since 1996, I find it incredibly crude and backwards that some here say to not give some of tax payers money towards this art program.

Really, Kelly? As a professional(and amateur) citizen in Palo Alto for decades, I find the notion of tax extortion to provide for so-called 'art', usually very unpopular with the 'nonprofessional artists' to be arrogant elitism.

Please name a few public art works in PA that you think "helps to enrich and give life to a (our) community". Moreover, why should such choices be up to the Arts Commission? An example is the fountain at the end of California Ave. Why is that not replaced with a nice and peaceful fountain, instead of being held hostage to an elitist choice?


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