Colorless. That’s so far what the color of Palo Alto is. Several years ago, artist Sam Yates was awarded a $10,000 grant by Palo Alto’s Public Arts Commission to develop “The Color of Palo Alto” by taking a photograph of every house in town and then digitally mixing the colors up to create the official color of this city — and drape City Hall with a film covering that includes all the house photos. Someone was then going to manufacture a paint that we could buy to paint our houses the color of Palo Alto. And the police and fire departments were going to use his photos to help find our houses.
Four or so years later, Yates is still not done with his project, but he’s been given an extra $55,000 for his yet-unfinished work. The bulk of the money — $40,000 — came as a gift from Hewlett Packard and the other $15,000 came from the commission, according to Linda Craighead, executive director of the Palo Alto Art Center, who staffs the commission. Total amount Yates received to date: $65,000.
Craighead said Yates said the work would be completed by September. I hope so. Originally we were told it would be done in a year. Yates now lives in Los Angeles, and is into his digital mix stage, Craighead said. When he’s completed Part I (determining the color), then Part II of the project will be to wrap City Hall in a film-like material (similar to the buses covered with film) so that all our houses will be visible on the building’s walls.
Yates had been working out of a small make-shift garage-like structure plopped on top of the circular garden in front of City Hall, which is an eyesore in itself. When he’s finished, the garage will come down, thank goodness.
This whole project has taken an inordinate amount of time. And I had no idea Yates was getting all this additional money for it. I am also guessing the color of Palo Alto will be “mud,” since if you mix a lot of colors together you get a muddy brown. But knowing this city, the color may fortuitously turn out to be “green.”
The commission originally awarded $10,000 commissions to three artists to artistically dress up the plaza in front of city hall. One went to Yates and the other two of these were “temporary” projects. One of the two was a carriage-type construction by artist Marta Thoma, who already had received two other commissions from the city for “Go Mama” on California Avenue (the 6-foot sculpture of a doll with a girl’s face on her belly) and for “Rrrrun.” a 5-foot-tall leg-turned-car sculpture sitting on a mound at Bowden Park on Alma Street across from the California Avenue train station. Both have received mixed reviews, like in “hate it” or “love it.”
I cannot figure out why the commission would give $10,000 to an artist for a temporary display, nor can I figure why one artist would get three commissions from the city, nor do I really understand why Yates, who originally agreed to do the project for $10,000, has now received $65,000.
I happen to think art is very important, and the city should spend money on public art. I also think the art should not be funky.
City Manager Frank Benest recently suggested cutting $25,000 from the commission’s budget next year. I originally thought that was a bad idea. Now I am not so sure.