Del Mar ends plans for public art at the Civic Center

Del Mar Civic Center
(Karen Billing)

Bogged down by questions over public sentiment, Del Mar City Council members voted 3-2 to discontinue the almost yearlong process of selecting a sculpture for the Civic Center at their May 1 meeting.

The city’s Arts Advisory Committee had narrowed a list of artwork to three pieces for consideration, with “Octetra” by Los Angeles-born artist and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi picked as the frontrunner.

“Octetra,” a pyramid-like structure made, would cost $250,000 in private funding, with no cost to the city. A public comment period and survey were going to be part of the process to select “Octetra” or identify other pieces that the public preferred.

“While there will always be a need for road repairs, parks that need improvements, more police on the streets, sidewalks feeling overcrowded, etc…. there is an equally profound need for beauty, curiosity, pride, a sense of belonging, and stimulating conversation that this amazing sculpture by Noguchi will provide to Del Mar residents and visitors,” Del Mar resident Gail Eyler wrote in an email to the council.

Architect Mike Jobes, whose work includes the Del Mar Civic Center, also endorsed “Octetra” for the proposed outdoor space.

“I also believe this sculpture will encourage the most interaction from kids visiting the plaza and overlook,” Jobes emailed the council. “The proposed location just across the walkway from the artificial turf area, where yoga and games are played, further enhances a sense of play in this area of the plaza.”

Several others emailed their opposition, writing that the sculpture would “end up becoming a jungle gym of some sort, which would be insulting to the artist” and that it is “not meant to be a playground.” Noguchi, who died in 1988, designed “Octetra” as a play structure, and the artist’s website includes a photo of the sculpture with children climbing on top and exploring the insides.

But Del Mar Mayor Tracy Martinez said she was concerned about residents who voiced concerns about the artwork taking away ocean views or taking away public space that they would rather keep open.

“I don’t want something in this town that’s very divisive,” she said.

Del Mar City Councilmembers Dwight Worden and Dave Druker voted against discontinuing the process. The two serve as liaisons to the city’s Arts Advisory Committee.

“If we do not feel comfortable making a decision, then I strongly suggest that we not waste the time of the public, and, more importantly, the time of the staff,” Druker said.