City matches Stanford donation for Caltrain tunnel art | June 28, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 28, 2013

City matches Stanford donation for Caltrain tunnel art

Another art project aims to liven up downtown storefronts

by Elena Kadvany

The walls of the University Avenue underpass in Palo Alto could soon be covered with art, following the Public Art Commission's unanimous vote on Thursday, June 20, to match a donation by Stanford University to the art project.

Commissioner Vikki Tobak urged her colleagues to match Stanford's "firm commitment" of $15,000, which would go toward the installation of temporary rotating artworks in the University Avenue tunnel, located under Alma Street and the Palo Alto Caltrain station.

With more than 30 submissions, commissioners said the next step is for a selection committee to narrow it down to seven artists from whom they will request specific proposals. The committee is set to meet in August.

The commission will continue to raise funds in the meantime, hoping to reach a goal of $65,000.

The commission also discussed another temporary public art project in the works for downtown Palo Alto.

Anthony Discenza, an Oakland-based artist whose art has previously been on display at the Palo Alto Art Center, is proposing to transform what he calls "visual blank spots" in storefronts into temporary art installations. Discenza recently met with Tobak and Commissioner Trish Collins and walked around Palo Alto.

"One thing that he really honed in on was something that the City Council and community members have been talking about, which is all the startups in the storefronts," Tobak said. "He thought it was interesting that a lot of these seemingly empty storefronts or closed storefronts actually had very lively, vibrant businesses going on in there."

Discenza proposed putting in what look like traditional street signs, decorated with various adages that point with "tongue and cheek" to the vibrancy and competition that Palo Alto is known for, Tobak said. Previous signs he has created display text such as "Stop dreaming, start living, stop thinking, start loving" and "We wondered at unfamiliar sensations and realized with joy that they were doubts."

The signs would be installed for several months throughout downtown.

Many commissioners voiced concerns that it would be difficult to convince startups or businesses to display such art in their storefronts. Tobak said that Discenza has also proposed alternative venues, such as putting the street signs up on the street or creating stencils on sidewalks.

Discenza's proposal is pending the commission's approval, depending on a few clarifications on the medium and specific wording he will use.

The commission also welcomed a few younger visitors at its meeting, with a group of children presenting an update on the Aurora project, an interactive light sculpture of a tree to be installed in front of City Hall this fall.

Most recently, they were at the Maker Faire in May, creating more than 200 copper leaves that will hang from the sculpture. The leaves are meant to serve as wind chimes and will be illuminated by 40,000 LED lights at night.

The project has raised $25,000 so far, with $75,000 to go. Artist Charles Gadeken and Palo Alto resident Harry Hirschman said they hope to install the sculpture in late October or early November.

Editorial Assistant Elena Kadvany can be emailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Just don't get it...
a resident of Southgate
on Jun 21, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I think both projects sound great and an improvement...However, my question is: Why isn't something done about the dispicable condition of the landscape (or not) entering the underpass in either direction?? This is viewed by thousands every day and it remains a disgrace to the city of Palo Alto! Especially when it is landscaped on either side.

Like this comment
Posted by MadamPresident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 21, 2013 at 1:25 pm

I wish this monies were used to wash off the piss in the underpass - at least weekly - it smells awfull in there

Like this comment
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 21, 2013 at 3:20 pm

I use the tunnel. I use it to get to a train or a shuttle to Stanford. I want to get through it as quickly as I can to get to my transit source.

I am not going to stop my walk to admire art. The main reason I stop in the tunnel is that I have had the *#@$" scared out of me when a person on a bicycle ignores the walk your bike rule and runs herd on a narrow corridor without regard to pedestrians. I stop to make sure I don't get hit.

This tunnel is not conducive to art. People need to move through these tunnels, not stop and admire works of art.

Like this comment
Posted by matt
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 21, 2013 at 5:00 pm

To the first comment. Agreed. To the second. Twice a week. Looking at the third I would say, buck up stop them and educate. Arts and pride need room too.

Like this comment
Posted by Agree with Matt
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 21, 2013 at 7:46 pm


Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 25, 2013 at 1:58 pm

This tunnel art was raised months ago, and a lot of arguing and differing opinions, but I think it is a big waste or time and energy to put art in that tunnel. And particularly school spirit art or anything at all controversial that will provoke rude people to attack it with graffiti.

Decades ago I used to walk through that tunnel or bike through it almost every day and I never looked at the art at that time ... but I did notice the graffiti.

It seems to me that we should look at the "thing" as a piece of infrastructure and it has certain real demands and other things that might be nice but are secondary. What is primary is landscaping and keeping the tunnel as light airy clean and presentable. As soon as someone paints art in this tunnel, people will come in and spray graffiti all over it.

Then the logical question becomes - how much will it cost to remove the graffiti?

If there is art to be restored it will cost more or not be done well and eventually the whole place will look like a crappy bunch of patches done at a different time.

Why not just paint the inside a single solid bright color to make repairing it easy, and allow money to be spent on the landscaping which someone mentioned is a real problems since more people see it?

Like this comment
Posted by Russ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2013 at 8:38 am

The tunnels recently received a new coat of paint in a light yellow color to match the other tunnels with an accent of maroon trim. Some water sealing was also completed. It has brightened up and cleaned up the tunnels a great deal. Kudos to both the pubic works department and the downtown association for getting the job done.

Looking forward to seeing what ideas come forward for art in the tunnels. I am certain that the issues of vandalism and graffitti will be considered when judging the ideas that come to the committee.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2013 at 8:52 am

Tunnels are public thoroughfares and do not need to be turned into bottlenecks.

Public art should be displayed where there is space for people to enjoy it at leisure. Not in a narrow tunnel where people are in a hurry to catch a train.

Like this comment
Posted by Russ
a resident of another community
on Jun 27, 2013 at 7:24 am

Art in tunnels can be found in many cities throughout the world. Local examples are in each station tunnel in the peninsula Bart system. Makes the environment a more pleasant experience and art in the University tunnels will enhance the experience of entering ( or leaving) downtown Palo Alto. Further, art can be and should be anywhere. Public at should always have an element of surprise.

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