Palo Alto's new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center will feature at its entrance a blocky, arch-shaped sculpture designed by Bruce Beasley, the same artist whose proposal for a new California Avenue fountain fizzled under a wave of criticism a year ago.
The Beasley sculpture, which would cost the city $270,000, was unanimously approved by the City Council on Monday night. City officials assured the council that the jagged, granite sculpture would serve as the perfect centerpiece for the bond-funded project.
According to the project description in the approved contract, the grey granite sculpture will be a "free standing composition of intersecting geometric forms that form an arch balanced on two columns." It will be 11.5 feet high and 10.5 feet wide and it will be installed on a mound and serve as a "welcoming element and place maker for the library and community center."
Elise DeMarzo, who chairs the Public Art Commission, said the Beasley sculpture is both a fine piece of art and an "amazing deal" for the city, which currently allocates 1 percent of its spending on capital improvement projects to public art. In this case, the Beasley sculpture would eat up the entire 1 percent allotment.
"This is the largest project to take place in Palo Alto in decades and it's absolutely fitting that we have a destination piece of art as a gateway to this amazing new community center and library complex," DeMarzo told the council. "This is the time to do it, this is the place and Bruce Beasley is absolutely the artist."
The Public Art Commission also approved last week spending $120,000 on three other public-art pieces for the project, including a "new media piece" (one that incorporates 20th-century elements such as computer graphics and animation), a mural and "artistically designed
The gradually decreasing costs of construction could also bolster the city's effort to bring other works of art to the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center. City Manager James Keene said the project's overall costs, which are projected to fall short of the budgeted amount, could give the council the flexibility to add more art.
"There is some potential for us to explore, if the council wants to make the policy decision, to actually consider additional art," Keene said.
A staff report accompanying the proposed contract describes Beasley as an "internationally-recognized artist" and one of 20 artists worldwide who was commissioned to create art for this year's Olympics in Beijing. The report notes that many cities, including San Francisco, Brea, Sacramento and Stanford showcase his art.
But Beasley's proposal for a new, granite fountain near the California Avenue Caltrain station faced opposition and, ultimately, rejection last November. Dozens of residents urged the City Council to either fix the cracked "bird bath" fountain currently at the site or to replace it with a similar, traditional-looking structure.
The council voted to keep a traditional fountain on the California Avenue site but asked the Public Art Commission to consider bringing a major Beasley work to the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center.
The new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center -- by far the most ambitious element of Palo Alto's $76 million effort to rebuild its libraries -- is slated to be completed in the spring or summer of 2012. The new sculpture is scheduled to be installed toward the end of construction.