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Palo Alto looks to welcome more public art

Original post made on Apr 3, 2013

Palo Alto has no shortage of eye-catching public art, from "Digital DNA," a giant egg covered with silicon chips that adorns Lytton Plaza, to California Avenue's quirky "Go Mama" sculpture, which features a running "mama" with a baby face for a torso. Now, the city is considering ways to encourage more art.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 5:44 PM

Comments (39)

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Posted by formerpaloaltan
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 3, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Palo Alto has the ugliest, weirdest, creepiest public art in the world. The Go Mama sculpture is pure nightmare fuel.

I cannot wait for more of it.

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 3, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Another pressing issue will be addressed by the city council. This is definitely a high priority for our city. Forget about infrastructure. So much fr scharf's high minded ideas in his state of the city address

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Not only the whimsical structure outside the Art Center is thriving well, longer than expected, but now we seem to have a crop of odd signs. I assume this is art, whimsy is the word I would use, but I wonder if drivers have been distracted.

I like them but do question where they have been positioned.

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Posted by Eccccchhhhh,
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 3, 2013 at 7:28 pm

The "car running on two legs" in front of Bowden Park has got "Go Mama" beat for the "ugh! factor"!

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Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 3, 2013 at 7:44 pm

What exactly is pubic art?

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 3, 2013 at 8:08 pm

The city had fallen further behind in balancing the city budget. The city has fallen further behind in funding vital infrastructure needs without resorting to another bond measure and tax increase. With these pressing needs, do our city leaders and elected officials realize how ridiculous they look when they actually set time aside to discuss an issue like public art.

Another glaring example of heads buried in the sand, inability to set priorities, ignoring real issues to spin their wheels on more feel good fluff. What an irresponsible, pathetic display of leadership.

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2013 at 6:55 am

Let's review what the council has done so far in 2013:

* Expanded the plastic bag ban - hopes to stop 63,000 residents from littering 150 bags into the creeks, saving numerous police resources from investigating littering.

* Flying the "Rainbow Flag" over city hall plaza - enhancing the credentials of council members who are interested in running for future offices, with some special interest groups.

* Proposal for future art - raising the price of construction, and ensuring employment for out of town artist. Anybody remember the "Color of Palo Alto"

* Talk, but no action on parking issues - hoping to set a new record for inaction (now going on for over 12 years, despite setting expectations a year ago when they approved the zoning variance for the Lytton Gateway. After all, there is an election in 2014, and those running for re-election will need funding from the developers, so they don't want to get them mad before asking for contributions.

* Avoided talking at all about the spat of armed robberies - that's just giving the city bad PR.

* Avoided talking about past decisions to allow higher density development in exchange for 2 grocery stores, one of which shut down.

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Posted by you forgot
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 4, 2013 at 7:38 am

common sense--you also forgot that the council declared itself the "guardians of public health" and is working towards banning smoking in public parks.

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Posted by The-City-Government-Is-Your-Savior
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2013 at 7:55 am

> -you also forgot that the council declared itself the
> "guardians of public health"

Actually, the City Charter makes that claim. While the State, and possibly Federal Government, holds the most power, and resources, to deal with public health issues--the City Charter still makes the claim that the City Government has some power to deal with public health issues too.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 4, 2013 at 8:16 am

City Council....

Who is gong to pay for this 'public art' which , to many eyes, is beyond ridiculous and a waste of money??

Fix the streets
Fix the sidewalks
Quit nitpicking in our lives
Solve the budget problems
Fix the PALY-Town & Country traffic MESS
Fix the downtown parking problem

We've had nutty councils and fiscally irresponsible ones before, but this one is the prize. Do you understand the growing RAGE out in the neighborhoods?

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 4, 2013 at 8:46 am

I think most of the commenters here have missed the point on several fronts. One is that public art's intent is to encourage discussion about said public art. Apparently it's working because you are all talking about what you like and what you don;t like about it. Public Art that satisfies everyone's taste is not good public art. The other point that is missed here is that public art has been proven to be an economic stimulator bringing those who come to see the art and then spend money during their visit. Contrary to those who have commented here I think it's terrific that the council has recognized that bringing more public art to Palo Alto is important in many ways.

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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2013 at 9:28 am

> Some cities currently require a 1.5 percent or 2 percent
> contribution for new developments to set aside money for
> routine maintenance, the memo states. It argues that
> Palo Alto should follow suit.

Didn't the City Council make such a requirement several years ago?

> Posters missed the point ..

The posters who object to the current City Council's incompetence are spot on!

> the four council members argue that Palo Alto "has fallen
> behind other cities in fostering public art and providing a
> dedicated funding source for maintenance of our public art
> collection."

Really? How would anyone be able to make such a statement unless he/she had a complete inventory of the "public art" of all the cities in California--compiled in a way to demonstrate specfic item of art, cost-to-the-taxpayers, location, purpose of item, etc.

Did the Council Members penning this memo make any effort to actually inventory not only Palo Alto's current collection of "public art", but that of even the Bay Area cites? If they didn't--their claim is not supportable.

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Posted by Carrie
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2013 at 10:26 am

Bob - what you say might be true, but the problem in Palo Alto is in the execution of the idea of public art. Most of the pieces we have on display are eyesores. It's difficult to create art that is in everyone's taste, but Palo Alto seems to have a knack of picking art that is in *no one's* taste. If nobody likes it, and a lot of people complain how hideous it is, is it really art, or just junk? And if it's junk, why are we wasting public employees' time and public money on it?

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Posted by WilliamR
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 4, 2013 at 10:36 am

A oouple of years ago, in another discussion here on public art in Palo Alto, I suggested that all of the pieces should be on 5-year contracts. Every 5 years, people would have an opportunity to vote whether to keep each piece. If a majority gives it a thumbs-up, it stays for another 5 years, and if it gets a thumbs-down, it goes back to the artist and another piece is picked to take its place. Thid wouldn't have to be a real 'election' vote, just an online survey should suffice to gauge public opinion.

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Posted by Chesly Dougls Jr
a resident of Triple El
on Apr 4, 2013 at 11:00 am

We talk about Public Art paid for by the City.
How bout Art Work donated by its citizens, We live in a city that is one of the wealthiest in the Country yet the only work of Art donated by its citizens in the whole history of the city is that wich is in front of our City Hall. The Testimonial Pole honoring our Sister City Program of Neighbors Abroad. "The Rotary Club of Palo Alto paid for and and donated this work of art to the City Of Palo Alto. Why havent other steped forward?

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Posted by DC
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 4, 2013 at 11:24 am

Agree w/ "William R". And if we are not already doing so, the city should RENT the art for a set fee for those 5yrs rather than purchase it. The city could offer a set amount in removal fees to the artist when the piece gets the thumb's down.THAT is public art (as in, chosen by the public).
Perhaps set aside a limited number of designated "art spaces" throughout the city, similar to the art park in Loveland Colorado. Once a year there's a festival and artists/people come from all over northern Colorado to show/attend, place orders, walk thru, and on a daily basis during the year people eat their lunches and take their kids there among the permanent pieces. For us, this would mean limited art installations [read: less city funding needed], and rotation of art when a majority of residents don't like something.

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Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2013 at 11:52 am

Neighborhoods today have too little say in the "art" which the all knowing Public Art Folks foist on us more ignorant non-artists. Neighborhoods should be able to vote in or vote out bad art.

I like also the idea of renting it. We then could get rid of the awful self-weathering, junkyard like pieces which adorn Greer and the soccer park on Page Mill.

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Posted by Poor Decision Making
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2013 at 11:55 am

Palo Alto has too much so called art, look at California Avenue, it's a mess of over abundance of so called "public art". Do you know why California Avenue got all the public art? A former President of the Art Commission worked on California Avenue and assigned all the City's budget for public art to California Avenue.

If you don't think PA has a corrupt budget process, you've only got to look at California Avenue.

Now we have a Mayor who wants to siphon off more money for public art, while we have so much so called art that remains in storage because there's no where to put it!!!!

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Posted by MBS
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 4, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Public Art is so important in terms of making us think!! and appreciate the world around us. It almost doesn't matter whether one likes a particular piece of art. It is all important! We are greater than the sum of all of the concrete office buildings that the last half century has produced!

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Posted by An Insider
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2013 at 1:56 pm

The public art on California Avenue was not a gift from taxpayers via the city to the district. It was a successful example of public/private partnerships (ie. "Civic Engagement") on the part of numerous merchants that were willing to work with the Art Commission by helping fund the projects.

The district had a share in the discussions, the choices, the final selection & helping to pay for the art. 2 pieces "Love Spoken Here" (in front of Accent Arts) and Antonio's mural, were privately funded, 100%.

The former chair of the Public Art Commission had moved their office, by the time the majority of that collection was in place. But the successful partnership continued after the move, and while other districts were not stepping to the plate to bring art to their district.

People from as far away as Asia and Europe come to see the collection on "California Avenue: Palo Altos' Avenue of Art." There are about 15 pieces in the district, and a walking tour exists, with about 13 pieces described in it, and the district had been on-line, for the art world to see.

Many citizens voiced support for most of the pieces that line that district, even the 2 sculptures that draw the most vocal opponents:
"Go Mama" and "Rrrrnnn". But these people do not admit to liking them in public, because dissenting opinions are slaughtered by their otherwise tolerant and very kind neighbors that dislike the pieces.

Art ought not be high on the council list of priorities, rather, it peripheral and should be the focus of attention only after all other pressing needs of the community are addressed.

California Avenue focused on art because it was one area on which the average citizen could work, seeing results happening in a reasonable amount of time.

The city ignored the district for over 40 years, even removing trees that died, one by one, leaving the tree wells either filled in with cement, or with dirt growing only weeds. Most people never noticed either the removed trees or the weeds that grew.

Most people never noticed when a dozen window boxes with flowers were installed along the corridor on the brick walls, planted with seasonal flowers, all still there.

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Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Isn't housing expensive enough in Palo Alto? Adding a 1% charge to everyone building or remodeling property in Palo Alto is not in the public interest. I support looking for donated art, not increasing the cost of living in Palo Alto. I agree with many of the posters that Palo Alto seems to spending too much money on frivolous nonessential projects and not enough on infrastructure.

Let's try to keep in mind that the City of Palo Alto's main goal should be to to improve the lives of its residents and taxpayers, not provide profits for developers or making some kind of statement for mankind in general.

I also like the idea of involving the public more in deciding what art should be permanent.

Personally, I'd like to see more murals, more art like the sunflowers that shade seating outside Country Sun and fewer Go Mama pieces. Couldn't we do more to transform bicycle racks and benches into works of art?

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2013 at 4:10 pm

> People from as far away as Asia and Europe come to see the collection on "California Avenue: Palo Altos' Avenue of Art."


When was CA Ave named "Palo Alto's Avenue of Art"? I must have missed that headline in the local papers.

What makes you think world travelers are drawn to CA Ave? Have you stopped people in the street and asked where they're from and why they're there?

I shop on CA Ave 2 - 3 times a week, and I've never seen a single tour bus.

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Posted by Cal Ave Merchant
a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Pat, glad you asked. This is old very news, link to information you wanted is here:

Web Link

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Posted by Offended
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2013 at 6:01 pm

"Go Mama" is not just controversial, or bad, it is grotesque and offensive and has ruined the California Ave streetscape.So University Ave has The Cheesecake Factory and California Ave has
"Go Mama" - very nice. I am embarrassed to take out-of-town visitors to either place. Alma Plaza, etc, etc - we are at rock bottom folks.

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Posted by What?
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 4, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Regarding the Go Mama sculpture: I get lots of visitors from my native Europe and everyone of them asks about that sculpture: WHAT THE HECK IS THAT???

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Posted by stewart
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 4, 2013 at 6:53 pm

"Palo Alto" and "Public Art". When uttered together, it's no different than being forced to step in a fresh pile of ****. Of course, it will be in the middle of the sidewalk, unavoidable, and revered for what it might have once been.

City Council; If you are wasting time wondering what to do about so-called public art, you are oblivious to the greater, and real problems that confront Palo Alto, and just about every other city in this country. If real issues, not resume building kumbya drivel is all you can muster, it's time to resign. really. Please.

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Posted by GM Mama
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 4, 2013 at 7:31 pm

I am not happy with most of the public art in Palo Alto. Much of it is quite garish, though I do like the egg sculpture and the mural work on various buildings.

I would rather see more attention and money devoted to the planting and care of trees in our city. As Palo Alto becomes more jam-packed with building developments, we need more nature, not more art.

Moreover, the proposal under consideration would have the indirect effect of raising costs that would ultimately be borne by Palo Altans.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Cal Ave Merchant: The website you reference is a page from the website “Destination Palo Alto,” an online marketing brochure. It says:

Living up to its original motto, "Small town shopping in the heart of the city", the district also boasts 14 pieces of public art, a collection that began in 1996. So to locals and art aficionados from around the world, California Avenue is also known as "Palo Alto's Avenue of the Arts". Web Link

Now if only “An Insider” would tell me when the tour buses of “art aficionados from around the world” roll down the street.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 4, 2013 at 10:02 pm

One more time, this gives me the chance to chime in to agree that 'Go Mama" is dreadful. While I support public art, I do not support the way it has been accomplished in the City of Palo Alto, with the exception of murals.

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Posted by An art lover
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 5, 2013 at 10:31 am

I dislike only the egg & greatly miss Foreign Friends on Embarcadero.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2013 at 1:18 pm

There is no accounting for taste.....people have never, and will never, agree about art.
Just try to go with the flow.

And -- Palo Alto, despite the whining to the contrary, can afford to buy and display public art. Your town would not look as nice as it does without it. It gives some ambience to a place with a lot of banal public and private architecture.

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Posted by Marietta
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 5, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I always enjoyed the "Foreign Friends" on Embarcadero. It was a gift from a Swedish Sister City and I thought it was abominable the way the public treated it, I.e., vandalizing it.

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Posted by Let-The-Public-Vote
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2013 at 8:11 am

It's a shame that we Palo Altans can't vote on the so-called public art that has been forced on us by the City. It's also a shame that this art is not rotated more--not only around the city, but between cities.

It's also a shame that the artists that have been subsidized by the City at the Cubberley Center for decades have not been required to donate art to the City, in consideration for the hundreds of thousands (probably millions of dollars by now) of rent subsidies for their studios. These people have done nothing in terms of giving back to the public for this space.

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Posted by offended
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Carrie is right. We are not talking about the concept of "public art" in the abstract. We are reacting to what we see in Palo Alto.
But it's not just in "public art" where the City is failing- it is across the board- the visual environment, the aesthetics, the character of the City,most of the new construction, the massive over
development, the streetscapes with sign clutter, etc.The City is in serious and shocking decline.

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Posted by Use money wisely
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Instead of money for art, which most of us are tired of, thanks, use that money to pay for a parking garage near 101 with frequent shuttles into downtown. It would solve problems both for residents and for downtown workers.
That Mayor Scharff thinks art is important (and Liz Kniss too) says alot about the remoteness of their connection to the people who live here.

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Posted by Jeff
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 8, 2013 at 6:43 am

Not jumping into the whole debate, but that Egg thing next to Pizza-My-Heat, should go. Not good.

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Posted by Bob again
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 8, 2013 at 8:45 am

One again, the complainers on this post are missing the point. The public can not "vote" on public art. For one thing, no one would agree and for another thing if majority ruled, you would wind up with a city full of boring, ordinary, safe public art like bird baths and fountains. There would be nothing to talk about. And that is the point of public art. My gosh, look how much you are talking about it. Seems like it's working. Congrats Palo Alto for providing pour community with art that we can actually discuss.

Take a ride around the Peninsula. You won;t be talking about each city's art, because they don't have any. We are lucky that we have art on Palo Alto. It has been proven in many studies that city's that have public art are better cities for a variety of reasons including civic engagement and economic stimuli.

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Posted by Periwinkle Brownsnot
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm

I'm struck by a comment made by Larry Harvey, founder of the annual Burning Man art festival in the Nevada's Black Rock desert each summer. Paraphrasing: "We discovered that people don't get so angry about monumental art put into their neighborhoods if it's only there temporarily, say for three to five years. And because Burning Man is a temporary city, we have become experts at moving, installing then removing monumental art quickly." So, would it be more fun for everyone if the new art was essentially on a rotational program? For one, more artists could have their work shown, plus there would be the side benefit that there are literally warehouses full of big old honkin' Burning Man art projects in Oakland and Emeryville, some of it whimsical and fun beyond the descriptions possible in a short post like this. And a third benefit is that it would ABSOLUTELY not look like some of the boring stuff that reeks of having been visioned specifically to get by some City committee of stuffy faux experts and partisans. Let's have some fun, folks! Gavin Newsome got San Francisco doing this for about five years and it works great (query "Bliss Dance Treasure Island" or "Raygun Rocketship Pier 14 Embarcadero" to see what I'm talking about...). Apparently Raygun is about to be taken down having run its years - think of what a coup THAT would be for Palo Alto.

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Posted by Periwinkle Brownsnot
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 8, 2013 at 3:30 pm

... oops, almost forgot the punch line: We can do this WITHOUT any taxpayer funding. That should address the concerns of the "you can't possibly be serious about wasting taxpayer money on this" voices (who I happen to think are correct).

There's so much financial creativity within a twenty mile radius I would be very surprised if this requires government funding. Please, save that for really important things, like fixing the traffic and parking implosions.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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