Public art: Gift or burden?
Solana Beach embraces the challenge
For Solana Beach, beauty is in the eye of more than 13,000 beholders.
For artist Mary Lynn Dominguez, who is currently placing her tile mosaic on all four corners of the Lomas Santa Fe-Interstate 5 underpass, it is in the eyes of the 36,800 commuters who pass through that intersection each day.
“You have to have a thick skin,” she said as her construction crew affixed pieces of her project onto the concrete wall. “Art is so subjective so everybody likes a different kind.”
Love it, hate it, or just indifferent, public art is a part of many cities around this country, including Solana Beach. Aside from the current display going up near the freeway, the city recently won an award for its stretch of the Coast to Crest Trail, in January dedicated a donated seabird sculpture at Fletcher Cove to go with several pieces already in place in and around the park, and has a fountain at the intersection of Lomas Santa Fe and Highway 101.
“It’s always been a welcome part in the community,” Councilman Mike Nichols said of public art in general.
Some have lauded the additions as a complement to the natural beauty already in place in Solana Beach. Others have had a much different take.
“People are used to looking at places a certain way and I think when art shows up if people don’t like the artwork they just resent the intrusion,” said Dennis Higgins, who designed the base of the seabird sculpture as well as the welcome sign currently being considered for outside the newly constructed Eden Garden’s Pump Station.
The city received 83 comments on his proposed project during the 30-day public review period, with 80 of them being positive, said Anita Edman, a city staff member who works with the public arts advisory commission.
“Not that (the other three) were negative — they didn’t even address the entry sign, they just said spend the money on fixing the potholes,” she said.
The welcome sign is estimated to cost $19,000, but Edman said much of the money allocated for public art couldn’t be spent on anything else. She said a lot comes from donors and sponsorships. The commission also receives about a third of a percent of the city’s transient occupancy tax, which City Manager David Ott said brought in $19,000 last year. Developers with approved commercial projects valued at over $500,000 must allocate a half percent of their construction costs either to the city’s art fund — most recently valued in June 2009 at $62,000 — or can produce their own art that is still subject to city approval.
That art fund will be used to pay for the Eden Gardens sign at the pump station if it is ultimately approved by the council, which has the final say on all public art.
Other funds are also available for public art. For example, the mosaic Dominguez is currently placing at the Lomas Santa Fe intersection was paid for entirely by state and federal money.
Allan Kosup, Caltrans director of the Interstate 5 corridor, said the $200,000 art project was meant to mitigate any aesthetics compromised after the project that was designed to improve traffic flow in the heavily traversed intersection.
He said the money was transferred to the city, which took the lead on choosing a project it wanted for that area. Dominguez was chosen out of roughly seven other proposed projects.
Edman said it is rare for a public art proposal to have such overwhelmingly positive response, as in the case of the Eden Gardens sign.
“In a small community like Solana Beach everything is scrutinized more,” she said. “The residents are more involved because they see it everyday.”
Edman said the seabird sculpture now in Fletcher Cove faced most of its scrutiny over where it should be placed. It was first proposed as a city entry sign on Highway 101 and then kept in storage until a decision was made.
Since being dedicated at the park in late January, the base is now showing a greenish patina, or film formed over bronze due to oxidation.
“That was intentional,” said donor Carol Childs, adding a special bronze was chosen to ensure it would wind up the same color as the waves before they break. “We left it in a way that it would gradually weather to exactly a water look to make it even more natural.”
Back in the eastern part of Solana Beach, Dominguez estimates she will be working until July to complete all four sides of the intersection. She has already finished the portion on the southeast exit of the underpass.
Her mosaic design was originally approved in 2004, but she only started placing her project in the last two weeks. She said the color schemes would reflect a dusk to dawn motif, with the western portions having darker hues.
Dominguez and her support staff were well at work under the sun on a recent Friday. Several cars passing through the heavily traversed I-5, Lomas Santa Fe intersection honked or yelled in appreciation.
As for those who do not have such nice things to share, the very environment she is said to be beautifying returns the favor.
“Well actually somebody came by and grumbled about it but I couldn’t hear what he said because the traffic was so loud,” Dominguez said.
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