New Art Approved for Civic Center Park

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Proposed artwork for the city’s Civic Center Park sculpture exhibition. — Photo courtesy city of Newport Beach
Proposed artwork for the city’s Civic Center Park sculpture exhibition.
— Photo Illustration courtesy city of Newport Beach

There will soon be more art in the Civic Center park, following a Newport Beach City Council decision this week.

Council unanimously approved 10 new pieces of art for Sculpture Exhibition in Civic Center Park on Tuesday.

They will be installed in August and stay for two years, when they will be rotated out and replaced with a new set. The total cost of the project is about $120,000.

“We’re very excited for phase two of our sculpture garden,” said Arts Commission Chairwoman Rita Goldberg, noting several benefits to the community the art in the park will provide.

Some of those benefits include: School field trips, docent-led tours, enjoyable lunch space for local business employees, opportunities to incorporate music, fun programs for the community, and more. It will also be heavily promoted as a tourist attraction, Goldberg added.

Commissioner Robert Smith quoted a city of San Diego tagline: “Vibrant culture, vibrant city.”

“I think this is a way of establishing that vibrancy,” he added.

Rick Stein Arts Orange County and Rebecca Ehemann of Green Public Art gave a presentation on the selection process and the 10 selected sculptures, as well as four alternates.

City staff began planning the project in January. A call for artists was opened in early March with

Proposed artwork for the city’s Civic Center Park sculpture exhibition. — Photo courtesy city of Newport Beach
Proposed artwork for the city’s Civic Center Park sculpture exhibition.
— Photo Illustration courtesy city of Newport Beach

a May 1 deadline. They received 81 submissions. A judging panel of three city arts commissioners and three outside experts narrowed it down to 26 finalists and then down to the top 10 and four alternates. The entire Arts Commission then reviewed the selected pieces and approved them for recommendation to the City Council.

The selection criteria included the artistic merit, durability, practicality of installation, and appropriateness to the site.

The 10 selected pieces are: La Cage aux Folles by Warren Techentin, a large 10,767-pound piece made from bent steel tubes, inspired by cages, follies, and the nomadic Mongolian yurt; Loomings by William Bennett, a wood and steel piece that is “part boat, plane, animal, and sleigh” with a large 19th century cast iron bell; Re-cycled by Jared Charzewski (w/ Sean Mueller), a sphere made out of repurposed bicycle chainrings; Prime Commonality by Luke Crawley & Quincy Owens, posts that represent the ancestral commonality between humans and chimpanzees with colorful chromosomal banding; Decline by Grant Irish, a heavy 1,000-pound steel machine gear-like piece that slopes down into the ground; Sunflower by Patricia Vader, a wind-driven kinetic metal 14-foot flower; Mama Crusty by Tim Little, a giant crab made from recycled Chevy and Harley parts; Three Saplings by Diana Markessinis, three separate steel tree saplings; Double White by Bertil Petersson, a 400-pound painted steel minimal visual element; and Demoiselle by LT Mustardseed, a blue 27-foot long California native damselfly.

“The works recommended by the panel and approved by the city Arts Commission really have something for everyone in it,” Smith said. “There are works that are colorful and fun, there are works for all ages, there are works that reflect the natural habitat and get people talking about the natural habitat. The works include decorative elements that help animate the park and make it more inspiring. Also, there are works that echo the architecture of the Civic Center building and the City Council (chambers).”

A council members and public speakers expressed concerns for a few of the sculptures. The main concern was regarding liability and children possibly climbing on a sculpture and getting injured. Signage could be posted stating whether or not climbing is allowed or a barrier could be installed, some suggested.

Mayor Ed Selich suggested to direct staff to evaluate the risk aspect of the pieces and if any are found to be risky they can return to council for consideration of an alternate sculpture.

Councilman Scott Peotter also emphasized the importance of the transition to partial or full private funding for the project, an idea which the Arts Commission has expressed interest in pursuing. Several council members echoed their support for this possible plan, although the council hasn’t taken any formal action on the matter.

Several council members also agreed that more public input was needed.

Ultimately, more public participation will help the selected pieces better reflect the values of this community, Selich noted.

Council members and public speakers also agreed that art is subjective and not every piece will please every person.

“Art is something that a lot of people react differently to,” Selich said.

The array of sculptures will enhance the community and create discussion, said Councilman Keith Curry.

“I don’t like all of them, I like some of them,” Curry said. “But that’s what art is about.”

A long-term resident, who described herself as an art expert, agreed that not everyone will like every piece. She commended the council and staff for being “risk-takers” in selecting art that can be discussed and arouse public interest.

“There is no way that you, as a governing body, will be able to choose art that every single person in this room will like,” she said. “Whether you like the art or you hate it, you are discussing it.”

Both sides were definitely represented during public comment.

Resident Barry Allen strongly disagreed with most of the selection. Although Allen did like the “wonderful” La Cage aux Folles and the sunflower was also ok, he added.

Overall, the “junk” will “increase the ugliness component” of the park, Allen said.

The worst offender, in Allen’s opinion, was Mama Crusty (crab). He described it as “hideous,” “beastly,” and “scary” and will cause nightmares for children and “sensitive adults.”

He preferred the alternative Slices of Heaven, which is comprised of four gigantic, realistic-looking orange slices stacked eight feet tall.

Long time resident John Anderson said it was a noble effort, but it’s a “visual hodgepodge” and a “chaotic junkyard” which diminishes the aesthetic value of both the individual sculptures and the natural environment.

“Even more sculptures in this already cluttered environment would be ludicrous overkill in the extreme and likely elicit strong civic and cultural backlash and further focus attention on the fiscal implications,” Anderson said.

There were also some supporters in the audience.

The sculptures will be a nice addition to the park, said local George Schroeder. This space gets used a lot, especially on the weekends, he noted.

Newport Beach Arts Foundation President Carmen Smith was also on board with the idea of more art in the Civic Center park. She’s received a lot of positive feedback from the tours she has done for the current sculptures and people return to the park to view them, she added.

Not every viewer will like every piece, she noted.

“That’s the way art is,” Smith said.

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    • Hi–this is editor Christopher Trela responding. I served on the Arts Commission for four years, and at that time the commission had discussed options for the funding mechanism needed for public art, including seeking private donors, but the city entered into an agreement with OCMA to help identify, acquire and pay for art. However, that effort did not produce anything substantial in a timely manner, so the city took the project back and added the cost of the civic center artwork to its budget (which is a fraction of the city’s annual budget of $282 million). Now, the commission has been directed (and agrees) to seek private funding for future projects (ones that reportedly do not include bunnies).