Cities make public art a priority 

At the west end of Orange Park in South San Francisco, there is a  concrete path that weaves through a garden of public sculptures — from a granite slab to a statue of a child holding a dog — part of a public art program that aims to expand horizons and open minds.

“I appreciate the effort,” San Bruno resident Dawn Ferrer, 50, said of cities that put up art in public places. “There’s not a lot of cool architecture in this part of the city. It’s a perfect addition.”

She said one of her favorite pieces of public art in South San Francisco is “American Dog” a 10-foot-tall bronze canine near the dog run area at Centennial Way park.

“I love that piece,” she said. “It just fits.”

Dale Rogers, the sculptor of “American Dog,” recently wrote on his blog that “public art, such as sculptures, can really help to define a community and set a tone for a creative surrounding.”

South City has spent an estimated $300,000 on public art, according to Susan Kennedy, the city’s interim recreation manager.

In addition to more than a dozen sculptures installed in parks, intersections and other city locations in the last decade, South San Francisco boasts several murals that were painted during the late 1990s: including the sweeping mural “Prometheus Gives Fire to Man” at the Caltrain station and a series of “Whimsical Windows” painted on the second floor wall space of a downtown building.

No money for the artwork, however, comes from the city’s general fund budget, according to Kennedy. Instead, the projects, which are vetted through the city’s art commission, are funded from either developer fees or fundraising efforts.

Public art provides residents and visitors with the feeling of a well-rounded community, Kennedy said.

“South San Francisco has prided itself for many years on the fact that we’re a good place to live, work and play,” Kennedy said. “Art, from my perspective, is a form of play.”

South San Francisco created its art commission in 1994. The city’s public art helps to enhance parks, open space and buildings, Kennedy said.

Patrick Cheng, owner of The Back Door chiropractic clinic at 502 Grand Ave., said the addition of “Whimsical Windows,” a series of 16 painted-on “windows” on the second floor of 500 Grand Ave., above his business, were a welcome addition in 1999.

Created by Guided Imagery and Productions, which is located in Woodside, the mural pieces give the illusion of people living and using the space.

“It was a poor design in the ’80s,” Cheng said of the building’s blank walls. “It was a lot of empty space. I like the way it looks now.”
While South San Francisco has funded its public art through developer fees and donations, other Peninsula cities have put up art for the public by asking local artists to lend pieces for display.

Daly City’s newly appointed mayor, Mark Guingona, said he hopes to encourage local artists to donate paintings for display. The rotunda at City Hall is the ideal location for public art, Guingona said.

“It’s got nails and hooks ready for stuff to go up,” he said. “I’d like to start with local artists then go from there.”

In Burlingame, a local art society has chosen three locations to display paintings done by residents.

Lynn Slodin, editor of the Burlingame Art Society’s newsletter, said the public displays give residents, including herself, an opportunity to show off their work.

“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “And I’ve always liked to paint.”

Paintings from 77 artists, some professionals, will be on display for the next two months, starting at the end of January at City Hall, the Pacific Bank on Burlingame Avenue and the Burlingame Recreation Center.

Burlingame Mayor Cathy Baylock said public art will be a priority when officials work on passing their downtown plan this year. The downtown plan is a set of guidelines that will direct the city in development and use for the next 30 years.

Baylock said while she does not possess any artistic talent, she is a strong supporter of the arts.

“I don’t think there’s enough of it,” Baylock said. “I think the downtown plan is the proper mechanism for us to get more art.”

In Redwood City, a former resident left $1.3 million in his will to go toward installing birdbaths around the city, which has since been working to find artists to make the functional installations also pieces of art. One, called “Ray of Light” and created by German artist Barton Rubenstein for $50,000, has been installed at the Redwood Shores Branch library. A second is scheduled to be placed at the downtown library in the coming months.

 

Artists get chance to tell their stories, relate to observers

Public displays of art are uplifting, help the local economy and educate onlookers, according to the artists who create them.

Celeste Welsh has a stone and glass piece on display in South San Francisco’s Orange Park. Called “Puzzle People,” the 2½-foot-tall, black-and-white interlocking pieces, which look like people, sit near the center of the garden welcoming onlookers.

A self-described artist since she was a child, Welch said such creative works not only allow artists to tell a story, but also allow the observer to relate with their own narratives.

“It’s enriching,” she said of public art. “We have enough cars and enough streets. I think a piece of art that appeals to a lot of people is a positive thing.”

South San Francisco has more than a dozen sculptures in parks and other public places.

One is located at an intersection: a 9-foot-tall piece of bright red steel, twisted up to the sky, “Torque” was funded by the developer of what is now Archstone and created by Robert Ellison, who is based in Penngrove.

“Torque” is on display near McLellan Drive, a new area of the city with multiuse development and new shopping centers.

Art can improve the image and economy of a city, Ellison said.

“It always does good, not bad,” he said. “At first, there can be some controversy during installation, but after a while, people begin to like it.”

Some people would disagree with the assertion that art is always good — particularly public art that is on display for all to see.

In San Mateo, a public art display provoked outrage from residents in 2008. The piece, at the downtown Caltrain station, included nude cartoons, according to the National Coalition Against Censorship. Residents called for its removal, but the American Civil Liberties Union fought to keep it up, saying the piece was a form of free speech. The piece was supported by elected officials and remained until its lease was up last year.

Artist Bruce Beasley, who sculpted the “Stone Horizon” piece in South San Francisco, said having “artistic expression into the public realm” was important.

“I’m a supporter of public art,” said Beasley, who is based in Oakland. “But maybe that’s because I’m an artist.”

 

Murals

South City's murals, by year of installation:

‘Whimsical Windows’
500 Grand Ave.
Installed: 1999  
Artist: Guided Imagery and Production
‘Transporting Oneself’
Lux Avenue and Airport Boulevard
Installed: 1999
Artist: Catalina Gonzalez

‘Doors of Avignon’
300 block of Grand Avenue
Installed: 1997
Artist: John Pugh

‘Prometheus Gives Fire to Man’
South San Francisco Caltrain station
Installed: 1996
Artist: Nicolai Larsen

 

South San Francisco has made it a mission to put public art out for residents to enjoy

‘Crucible of Light’
Orange Park Sculpture Garden
Installed: 2009
Artist: Chapel

‘American Dog’
South San Francisco Dog Park
Installed: 2009
Artist: Dale Rogers

‘Torque’
At the intersection near 100 McLellan Drive
Installed: 2008
Artist: Robert Ellison

‘Puzzle People’
Orange Park Sculpture Garden
Installed: 2008
Artist: Celeste Welch

‘Stone Horizon’
Orange Park Sculpture Garden
Installed: 2006
Artist: Bruce Beasley

‘Ponder (Yin & Yang)’
Orange Park Sculpture Garden
Installed: 2004
Artist: Keith Bush

‘Obelisk’
Orange Park Sculpture Garden
Installed: 2004
Artist: Bruce Gueswel

‘Best Friends and Heavy Load’
Orange Park Sculpture Garden
Installed: 2002
Artist: Corinne Hartley

‘Safehaven’
Orange Park Sculpture Garden
Installed: 2002
Artist: Jane DeDecker

‘Millennium’
Westborough and Junipero Serra boulevards
Installed: 2000
Artist: James Russell

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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