Fans of Midtown Palo Alto's Poetry Wall who hope to save the mural from potential destruction will have a chance to voice their views during the Public Art Commission meeting on Thursday night.
The commissioners are poised to choose one of three options after deciding last month to remove the existing mural from the city's permanent collection through a process called "deaccession," which could pave the way for the mural's removal and replacement. They initiated the process in June.
On Oct. 20, city staff recommended one of two options for reproducing the Poetry Wall as a "temporary" work of art. Commissioners rejected the idea, however, and instead moved to create a new mural. Since a new design wasn't on the October agenda and community members didn't provide input on a new mural, the commission at its Nov. 17 meeting will consider repainting the existing Poetry Wall for $29,000 or to commission a new mural at up to double the cost.
Staff is asking the commission to approve one of three designs for the temporary wall:
• Option A: repaint the Poetry Wall as a temporary project with a life span of seven to 10 years at a cost of $29,000.
• Option B: reproduce the Poetry Wall as a temporary project with a life span of two to three years, costing $23,000.
• Option C: commission a new mural at the site as a long-term temporary project, costing $40,000 to $60,000.
In October, however, staff told the commission that they haven't received any public feedback supporting a new temporary mural or multiple letters in support of keeping the Poetry Wall.
If the commission chooses one of the two options for reproduction of the Poetry Wall mural, the current paint would be removed and the wall would be primed and repaired before recreating the mural as a long-term temporary artwork. The city would either repaint the mural on the repaired wall, which would have a longer life span. Under the second option, the Poetry Wall would be digitally printed on adhesive aluminum with a shorter life span. Work on the existing mural and its reproduction would begin this winter. The city would then start discussing a new mural commission with the community in the future.
A decision to reject temporarily reproducing the Poetry Wall would require the staff to coordinate removing the current mural, identify an artist, launch community outreach and complete a design-development process. Commissioning an artist to create a new mural would range between $30,000 and $50,000. A new mural wouldn't be in place for at least 10 months to a year, staff said.
Choosing to commission a new mural would also impact staff's ability and time to carry out the city’s murals festival planned for spring 2023, likely pushing it back to spring 2024, according to the staff report.
Thursday's meeting is likely to revive community concern over the commission's decision to remove the wall from the city's permanent collection. They argue that Midtown has much less art than the city's other business districts, including California Avenue and downtown, and that Midtown is treated like the city's stepchild.
The city has preserved and approved other public art projects that are far more expensive than preserving the Poetry Wall, Midtown Residents Association Vice Chair Annette Glanckopf noted.
The City Council approved a $214,706 contract to construct three large dinosaur sculptures for a permanent California Dinosaur Garden exhibit at the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo in April 2021. Earlier this month, the council was also poised to approve as a consent calendar item additional funding for more dinosaur sculptures, replica skeletons and large "fossils'' for the garden. Three council members voted to table the item until a future date.
Glanckopf said last week that residents have written more than 50 letters in support of keeping the Poetry Wall. She invited the Public Art Commission to host a table at the Midtown Ice Cream social in September to gain community feedback. No one came.
She has also written to the council.
"This was the only city department that Midtown Residents Association invited to the social that did not happily participate. There was no attempt by Public Art or the Commission to gather any Midtown community input," she said in a letter to the council, which she wrote in October after the commission's decision to remove the mural from the permanent collection.
"This was a very well-attended event, and conversation would have been informative. After multiple attempts I was told no one — staff or commissioners — was available," she said by phone last week.
The Public Art Commission meeting will take place on Thursday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave. Remote access is available on Zoom by calling 669-900-6833 or visiting cityofpaloalto.zoom.us/j/88627841441 and using Meeting ID 886 2784 1441.