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Panel Ponders Placement of Overhead Street Sculptures

After a tour along San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito Arts and Culture Commission members raised questions Tuesday about proposed locations of abstract copper sculptures that will be attached to streetlight poles.

Now that El Cerrito's Arts and Culture Commission seems to have accepted a proposal to place abstract copper sculptures on a dozen street-light poles on the city's main thoroughfare, San Pablo Avenue, they are trying to figure out which poles to put them on.

Commission members raised questions and suggested new ideas Tuesday when they visited possible locations presented by the two artists who were awarded the city's $100,000 commission for the project, Jonathan Russell and Saori Ide of Berkeley.

The artists presented three different options for symmetrical groupings:

  • pairs of sculptures at six locations along the avenue
  • groups of four sculptures at three locations
  • groups of six sculptures at two locations

"I think we should keep the door open for another option, say, two-five-and-five," said commission chair Joyce Hawley, adding that it could be helpful to "think of more variation."

"I kind of agree a little bit," said commissioner Ed Franco, "because I like things in odd numbers."

Commission member Thomas Halasz suggested placement at stoplights so that motorists could have more of chance to view them, rather than in the middle of blocks where they could be more easily missed.

The proposal, which would create the largest public art project in city history, calls for the abstract shapes to be mounted high above the sidewalk and move with the wind. Each would be framed by a C-shaped, partial circle of stainless steel designed to resemble the new bike racks installed by the city on San Pablo.

The commission's followed many months of controversy over the artists' initial proposal, which was to attach colorful simple images of people and objects on 50 street-light poles along San Pablo Avenue. That plan was , which then asked for something abstract in copper.

Commissioner Paul Lupinksy called attention to "the safety and security of these poles" because of and urged that they be located in areas that are lit at all times.

Hawley asked Tuesday if the plan could be changed so that the dozen sculptures would be installed on the median that runs down the middle of San Pablo Avenue instead of on the street-light poles on the sidewalks.

Noting the large number of objects already above the sidewalks – such as city banners, trees, large signs for businesses and used-car lot flags – she said, "It just occurred to me that with so much stuff on the street, it would make it a grand avenue to have it (the sculpture project) in the median."

Suzanne Iarla, the city's Community Outreach Specialist and liaison to the commission, responded that placing them on the median would require Caltrans permission and would likely take two years, even if approved. It was also noted that poles would have to be erected on the median.

Iarla mentioned that city banners would removed from streetlight poles chosen for the sculptures.

She also said that one of the artists, Russell, expressed some preference for the first option, which would place the sculptures in pairs at six locations, to "give each piece a larger audience."

All three options presented by the artists would place some sculptures in front of El Cerrito Plaza and at the area next to the new Safeway and del Norte BART station. Two options would include the area near City Hall.

The attached PDF file, provided by the artists, contains three maps showing the locations of the artists' suggested options. Pole numbers on the map should be ignored since they are not correct.

The commission will consider the location selection at its next regular meeting, at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, Jan. 18, at City Hall.

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.

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.

Karin January 11, 2012 at 03:47 PM
I like the first map because everything is evenly distributed along San Pablo. However I also like the cluster of sculptures between Carlson and Central on the 3rd map because it is a very busy part of San Pablo, and what the city is hoping to be an entertainment district so it seems appropriate to have more along that section. Maybe put 4-5 sculptures between Carlson and Central, and 2 everywhere else (as per the 1st map), but stop at Hill instead of Conlon (as per the 2nd and 3rd map).
Walter January 11, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Copper? Aren't people ripping off things that are made of copper? Lets see how long these sculptures are there before they are stolen or defaced! Sorry for being so negative.

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