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Light-Pole Sculptures Approved for San Pablo Avenue After Long Delay

The long-debated public-art proposal for sculptures to be mounted on a dozen streetlight poles in El Cerrito finally won approval from the city's Arts and Culture Commission following a public hearing with only two speakers Thursday night.

The proposal for what will be – abstract copper sculptures mounted on 12 streetlight poles along San Pablo Avenue – won enthusiastic approval Thursday night following prolonged delay and .

The approval from the city's Arts and Culture Commission followed a public hearing in which only two people spoke, both in strong support. The vote was 5-0 with two abstentions from two new commissioners who had been seated that night and had not participated in the months of deliberations and discussions with the artists preceding the vote.

"I'm so happy and proud all of us working together over this period of time," commission member Nancy Donovan said before the vote, as it became clear that there was universal support for the design and that the chief concerns focused on installation, replacement in case of theft, and testing. Commissioner Paul Lupinsky asked for assurances that the sculptures, which will move with the wind, will be wind-tested in the studio before they are installed.

Two artists – Jonathan Russell and Saori Ide of Berkeley – were chosen from 17 competing proposals for the $100,000 commission from the city to create the sculptures as the public art component of the San Pablo Avenue Streetscape Project. The $6.6-million streetscape project is essentially complete except for the art, which was delayed by earlier disagreement over what direction it would take.

The Thursday vote was followed by applause in the council chambers, where the meeting was held. Donovan then asked, "Who'll buy the champagne when the first one gets done?"

Quickly raising her hand was Assistant City Manager Karen Pinkos, who said, "I will." Pinkos was the staff liaison to the commission during the selection of the artists and much of the tumult over the artists' first proposal, which was rejected last year by the commission. The first design called for colorful pictorial icons of people and objects on 50 streetlight poles along San Pablo. 

The approved design features abstract copper forms to be mounted on streetlight poles 20 feet above the sidewalk. They would be placed inside C-shaped stainless-steel frames that would be 4-1/2 feet in diameter. The steel frames are designed to echo the relatively new bike racks that were installed as part of the Streetscape Project.

After the artists left the chambers, Russell told Patch, "We're very happy and encouraged by all the positive support. We're very much looking forward to getting started on this project."

He told the commission that he and Ide plan to install the sculptures gradually over several months as they are completed and hope to begin installation within four months of final city approval. City staff were waiting on commission approval before finalizing contract documents.

On the threat of copper theft, Russell told the commission that the sculptures' 20-foot height off the sidewalk and location in well-lit, well-traveled spots should prevent them from being stolen. Pinkos said that since the sculpture will be city property, any loss would be covered by city insurance. The artists said they will keep the forms for shaping the sculptures in case any need to be replaced. The city would have to pay the artists for replacement due to theft or other causes not caused by negligence by the artists or by sub-contractors hired by the artists.

Ide and Russell were selected by a city-appointed committee in February of 2009 with the original timeline calling for installation the following summer.

Funding for the project results from the city's Art in Public Places Ordinance, adopted by the City Council in 2005, requiring that new projects costing $250,000 or more devote at least one percent of the development costs to public art. It is Chapter 13.50 in the city's Municipal Code.

The new commissioners who were seated in the citizen commission's two vacant seats were Heidi Rand, a photographer and designer, and Luis Zavala, a photographer.

For more background on the San Pablo Avenue public art project, you can see our past stories by clicking "San Pablo Avenue Streetlight Pole Sculptures" next to Related Topics below this article. For alerts on future stories on the topic, click the "Keep me posted" button below the article. 

Doug Millison March 23, 2012 at 03:37 PM
So happy to hear about Heidi Rand's appointment to the El Cerrito Arts and Culture Commission. She's a fine artist herself, and with her books she has already helped a big crowd of people advance their arts & crafts activities. Congratulations Heidi, and City of El Cerrito!
Will S. Anon March 23, 2012 at 04:19 PM
The original art, rejected by the committee, was whimiscal and delightful. The various colorful depictions of images from our local daily lives evoked smiles. The artists should have been left alone. That is why they are artists and committee members are not. What the committee has wrought is, well, what committees everywhere cough up...dullness. I for one prefer whimsy. Look at the accepted works...we should apologize to the artists. The committee has sucked all that was vibrant from the opportunity for community humor.
Chris Hanrahan March 23, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Now if we could just get some restaurants and cafes in the empty buildings these beautiful sculptures are going hanging over, that would really complete the picture.
Linda Moss March 23, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Very informative article. It has been a long road to get this project going, but hopefully we will be happy with the results.
lisa martinengo March 24, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Chris, I echo your comment precisely. How can EC attract them? I'm not sure these art sculptures are going to help in that direction, but anyhow, the issue remains a vital one. Thanks for bringing it out.

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