Editor's note: Happy April Fools' Day!
Come September, 2015, downtown Palo Alto pedestrians will be bumping into art literally.
The city's latest public art project, "Collisions Palo Alto," got the go-ahead from the Public Art Commission at its March 19 meeting. The project, designed by San Francisco-based industrial installation artist Avril Foux, consists of a series of 14 transparent Plexiglas walls ranging from 15 to 24 feet tall. Thanks to cutting-edge military technology, the walls will be nearly impossible to see from certain angles. The structures will be installed at key locations throughout the University Avenue area. Because the walls will be nearly invisible when approached at a 90-degree angle, some passersby will find themselves suddenly brought up short.
"Collisions" now moves forward to design refinement, engineering and fabrication. Installation is estimated to begin in mid-August.
In approving the project, commissioners noted its "out-of-the-box" approach to encouraging the public engage with art, and praised its "refreshing" sense of humor.
"I can't wait to see what out-of-town guests will say when they run into 'Collisions' for the first time," enthused Commission Chair Jim Migdal. "This is going to be one memorable series of sculptures. I think we're really going to put Palo Alto on the public art map with this one."
Elise de Marzo, Palo Alto's public art manager, noted that "Collisions" might actually help shift the culture of Palo Alto, which many decry as highly pressurized.
"Here in the heart of the Silicon Valley, we're very focused on business innovation and achievement, and we tend to move through life quite rapidly without taking the time to stop and notice where we are," de Marzo said. "My hope is that 'Collisions' will encourage all who come in contact with it to slow down a little."
Following the January 2014 passage of the Public Art in Private Development Ordinance, the businesses on whose property the walls are to be constructed submitted a joint proposal to the Public Art Commission for approval. Due to the intended surprise element of the project, the City has chosen not to make the exact locations public until two months after the erection of the structures. Funding for "Collisions," which is currently estimated at $1.2 million, will be provided entirely by the developers, not by the city.
Among the most outspoken critics of the project is Shannon Klein of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. Klein was unable to attend the March 19 meeting, but has filed a formal complaint with the City. "We've long advocated for an architectural ordinance that would prevent needless bird deaths," she wrote.
"'Collisions' should be an outrage to anyone concerned with the welfare of our avian friends: our most vulnerable population," Klein wrote in her letter.
Defenders of the project claim the impact on birds would be similar to that on humans: a light wake-up call rather than a true threat.
"Coming into contact with art unexpectedly is an experience we should all welcome," argued Palo Alto Art Center director Karen Keinzle, who has taken to referring to the project affectionately as "Smack" and has incorporated the idea into spring art workshops at the Art Center, where students age 4 to 84 can enroll in a new installation art class titled, "Smack into Art."
"A little creative collision is not going to be fatal for anyone," Keinzle said. "Frankly, we haven't had so much fun with an art project in years."
Even some of the council's leading slow-growth advocates have expressed their support for "Collisions." Although Mayor Karen Holman and council members Eric Filseth and Tom DuBois have been outspoken critics of rampant development, all three said they they're excited about the lesson of "Collisions," a message Holman expressed this way: "Slow down. Take a moment to appreciate the beauty of our community. Sure, it might bruise your ego a little. But then you'll shake it off and keep shopping."
To learn more about "Collisions Palo Alto," go to CollisionsPaloAlto.com or call 650-123-4567.
Staff Writer Lois Lane contributed to this report.