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May 24, 2005 > Funding public art

Funding public art

by Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson

As Fremont prepares to officially choose an artist for a public art installation at Fire Station No. 8, the question arises, "What is public art and who pays for it?"

While "public art" can be defined as artwork on public or private property acquired through public or private funding, the most often discussed form of public art is city funded. Because the definition of public art is so broad (it can be a sculpture, mural, manhole cover, fountain, mobile or a collage to name just a few) public opinion of it can be just as wide-ranging. You might recall the fracas over the art installation at the Livermore Public Library. Artist, Maria Alquilar of Miami, misspelled the names of historical figures Einstein, Shakespeare, Vincent Van Gogh, Michelangelo and others. Although Alquilar corrected her mistake, she said the changes denigrated the purpose of the work. This incident caused some to wonder exactly what our tax dollars are being used for.

Fremont had its own controversial situation in 1992 over public art at Fire Station No. 5 in Warm Springs. Sculptor Lori Kay created a jagged-edge sculpture of a dog with a front paw on a fire ladder called "Flight IV." Some citizens questioned the use of taxpayer money during a recession. Most residents were not aware - remaining largely unknown today - is that in 1987, the city of Fremont instituted an Art in Public Places Policy designating money for public artwork. Each building constructed by the city allocates one percent of the project's total budget to public art. Flight IV has since become a notable part of Fremont's artistic landscape. The sculpture cost about $11,000, including lighting and installation at the station at Hackamore Lane and Warm Springs Boulevard.
Other Fremont fire station art includes the $11,000 "Drought Fountain" by Robert Feldman at Station No. 10 on Deep Creek Road and the $12,000 "Firefighters" (often called "Casper the Friendly Ghost" for its off-white finish) at Station No. 4, located at Pine Street and Paseo Padre Parkway.
A number of cities have policies requiring space and money for public art. Although Union City has a public art funding policy, due to budget cuts over the past few years, it has been under-funded. However, the city's new intermodal station, to be completed in the next few years, is expected to be accompanied by numerous city-funded art pieces. The transportation hub, designed in the style of grand European train stations, might also be considered by some, a work of art.

In Newark an Art Policy was adopted in 1992 to promote art in public places
and private development. The city requires all new developments to pay a fee based on
their use and square footage. Economic Development Manager Clay Colvin said that when architects "incorporate extraordinary architectural features into their projects," this fee is reduced by 50 percent. If artwork or gallery space is provided, they can receive up to a 100 percent offset.

As a result of this policy, many Newark developments incorporate artistic
features in their projects.

Fremont, Newark and Union City also have plans in place for privately funded public art. The bronze sculpture at the corner of Walnut Avenue and Fremont Boulevard was funded by Target Stores but approved by the city council. In Union City, when builders pick up permits and paperwork, they are handed packet of information giving options to present a public art proposal before the Arts Council.

Although not yet official, Roberto L. Delgado has been designated as the artist for Fremont Fire Station No. 8. Delgado has studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, Italy, and earned a B.F.A. and an M.F.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles. His murals can be seen in Mexico, Nicaragua, Spain, and throughout the United States.

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