Remember Them (Ordinances)

I’ve been watching this the way one watches hornets build a nest right over the kitchen door.

Mario Chiodo was unsuccessful with this design in the public art competition for Mandela Gateway, but the work resonated with some folks, such as Jerry Brown and Ignacio de la Fuente and Peggy Stinnett and Respectalians from the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, who Mario got to pose in a really cool, situationist way… I think. Add the City’s Parks and Rec Commission and the City Planning Commission to the group of supporters.

Getting on board with the work has been easy for politicians: it’s an encylopedic reference to civil rights leaders and humanitarians, from Nelson Mandela to Mother Theresa to Thich Nhat Hanh.

The problem is that no arts-focused body convened by the City has ever approved of the 52 foot by 21 foot bronze sculpture. For well over a year a stand-off has brewed between City officials, who know enough about art to know it when they see it, and the cultural advisors it has appointed and hired to oversee such matters: the Public Art Advisory Committee, the Cultural Affairs Commission, the staff of the Public Art Program at the City’s Cultural Arts and Marketing Division, and the newly-formed Gifts Panel.

Meanwhile, Chiodo and supporters of the Monument worked with the Chamber of Commerce to move the project into a private commission of Forest City, the developer at the core of the City’s Uptown Development Area. They have been successful in siting the sculpture in Fox Square Neighborhood Park, which is currently private property… until Forest City gives the park to the City in 2008, and with it the Monument.

Observing this, the Public Art Advisory Committee sent a letter to the Mayor and Council alerting them to an end run around the City’s Public Art Program. The letter argued for a formal review of Monument which would eventually become part of the City’s art collection by a simple act of deeding the property it which it stands on to the City. The Cultural Affairs Commission endorsed the letter, and City staff met with the artist and project backers, who agreed to the review by the City’s Gift Panel.

The panel met on May 31 to review the proposal, look at site plans and imagery, and visit Chiodo’s studio to engage the artist in a discussion where they encountered a posse of project backers, including poet and novelist Guy Johnson. At the end of the day, Monument looks like it’s getting another no vote –albeit a qualified one– from this latest public body.

The report contains some aesthetic recommendations for the work, which are typical with large civic commissions, but centers its declination based on, what else, the numbers. The unfunded portion of the fabrication cost (estimated at $3.5 million) and the ongoing cost of maintaining the safety and condition of a two-story, 50 foot piece of bronze, which the proposal suggests would be covered by sales of an educational DVD.

The report will go to the Public Art Advisory Committee on Monday at 5pm, and insiders aren’t betting that the recommendation will be contested in any way. It should shoot straight to the Cultural Affairs Commission on June 26.

The Thing That Must Be Discovered

What’s at the heart of this debate?

  • Aesthetic differences: the highly representational style of the Monument is in stark contrast to say, The Ladders at  14th Street and Mandela Parkway commemorating the Loma Prieta collapse of the Cypress freeway. Those who align with one style or the other have been known to include a moral superiority while they’re at it.
  • Political correctness: voting down a sculpture that is
    attempting to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, among others, is going to
    require a lot of prelim regardless of the rationality of your argument. Yet this particular work has received plenty of no votes without anyone calling the card… yet.
  • Frustration with City bureaucracy: Public review of art and culture is a time-consuming system erected to protect public interest, with very little attention paid to it until one is not favored by it. Chiodo’s alternative to public funding of the Monument is an important model, even though this particular example seems to be pointing to public funding after all.
  • Contempt for the Contempters: The Monument assaults our sense of fair play, but it should not be the only project to do so. It is merely another example of the Brown Administration appearing to support the arts while holding its own cultural workers and advisors in small regard. With one of the largest concentrations of artists in its borders and at its side, City Hall continues to relegate our functions to titulary rubber stampers while maintining a capricious royal court of aesthetic favorites who will likely triumph regardless of our protests or endorsements. As a participant in the recent Ron Dellums Arts Town Hall pointed out: City Hall has selected artists and arts initiatives based on their sympathy, or susceptibility, to the idea of the arts in service to the Mayor’s economic agenda. Upon reflection this agenda has created as much loss for citizens as it has created opportunity for its investors. The impact on the arts, barring the good fortunes of some of us, is writ large in our own deep-seated divisions.

You all have to, no I’m serious this time, fill out a speaker card for this one.

Oh yeah: all artists need to vote on Tuesday, June 6.

You’re All Fired, Including Me

The City Clerk published a document listing all the members of Oakland’s boards and commissions with notes about the duration of their terms. I reviewed the Cultural Arts Commission page and am delighted to announce:

Many of us can go home now.

We’ll do so because we’ve been assigned to terms that began before we arrived, and end (or ended) soon thereafter. Others are enjoying their terms beyond the legal limit of two consecutive three-year runs. This was, as a City Hall Gadfly alleges, because of two things:

  1. Early on in its administration (about the time we began celebrating the arts) the Mayor’s Office was keenly interested in politically emasculating one or two commissions, and so set the City Clerk on revising the approach to all of them to obscure the emasculating activity. Instead of appointing someone and having them live a three-year term from the moment of appointment, the appointments were fixed. You entered them like you would a photo booth. If you were there for all four flashes, eggselent. It could happen that you were there for only the last flash.
  2. The City Clerk’s office dutifully realigned, something that took them a kerjillion years because it involved the big things like time and space. Then they kept the rosters on a floppy disk that was
    infected with a boot virus, so all the work was foobared. In order to restore the data it has been
    suggested that it was simply… made up. I like this idea. Floppies are so nineteen eighty sixteen. It has a “And I realized I had stepped on a butterfly” feeling to it. Just add Kafka.

I think we should also step down because we’ve been a collective sack of potatoes, unclear on our mission and might, captivated by responsbilities outside the scope of public service, and engaged in either self-serving or self-loathing behavior. It’s not all disconnect. A large cross-section of the commission has a point of commonality: an ability to drink at the same bars as the Mayor’s staff, something we institutionalized on our agenda for a time.

We Were Floored, Now It’s Been Tabled

Assembly Member Mark Leno yanked AB 655 which proposed a 1% surcharge on admissions to entertainment venues as an alternate source of funding for the California Arts Commission. Plow your way through the routine howling this produced in movie theatre and amusement park owners to find the strange silence from the arts community on this one. The bill included taxing nonprofits themselves: 1% of the door, tithed to the CAC on the off-chance we might get it back through our participation in a re-capitalized CAC, which would be, thanks to us in small measure, and cineplexes and six flags in larger measure, back in the bidness of cultural funding.

One can always count on the religious right for modest proposals.

Would admissions to pony rides be subject to the surcharge?

Because those lil tykes aren’t pulling their weight.

The other bill to diversify funding for the California Arts Council uses a tax… no, an admission surcharge upon each patron of an entertainment venue. CAC gets the dough and gets back to the bidness of arts granting.

Just to be clear: in this bill race tracks and sporting events do not qualify as entertainment.

And we knew this: performances for the benefit of a nonprofit do not qualify as entertainment.

It’s an ingenious plan, she said, grasping for the exempted revenue as it fell into an inky void while scanning yet another headline about how concert promotions anticipate another set of sad, sad, so sad and depressive summer profits not due to Morrisey (I’m sick.. and sad!) comebacks.

The summary from the CAC’s don’t-be-skeered newsletter:

Assembly Bill 655 (Leno)

This bill by Assemblyman Mark Leno will levy a one percent fee on admissions at all entertainment venues in the state, both private and non-profit. This one percent bill is estimated to generate upwards of $30 million to the Arts Council for distribution in grants, according to preliminary analysis from the Board of Equalization. This proposed revenue stream would stabilize arts funding and remove a great deal of pressure from the competition for General Fund dollars from all government sources that depend on it for their programs and operations.

The Leno bill, AB 655 will be heard on Tuesday in the Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media at 9 a.m. on April 19th.

The State Board of Equalization (you know… the TAX PEOPLE) analyzed the bill and raised interesting questions (like the ones I confront every day: is a professional wrestling event a sporting event?).

Mark Leno can be contacted here or via fax: (916) 319-2113.

Why Didn’t We Whine About This Earlier?

Amy Kweskin sent this in, from the don’t-quit newsletter of the California Arts Council:

Senate Bill 691 (Speier)
Did you know that your personalized Arts License Plate purchase does not fully go to the California Arts Council, but results in a contribution to the Environmental License Plate (ELP) Fund as well?

For the past ten years purchasers of the Arts Plate have been contributing $40 of the $70 purchase price and $25 of the $40 renewal fee to the ELP Fund, with the remaining coming to the CAC to fund arts programs for children.

In the past, the revenue from the Arts License Plate was a small part of the overall CAC budget. Now, as a result of the greatly reduced Arts Council budget, the role of Arts License Plate fees to the CAC budget has became of greater importance. The bill SB 691 by Assemblywoman Jackie Speier would exempt the Arts Plate from contributing to the ELP Fund, and instead have the full amount go towards arts funding and distributed by the California Arts Council.

The Arts Plate is the most popular plate in the state. Seven million dollars have been generated for the arts since 1994. DMV reports $2.5 million have been contributed to the ELP Fund in the same period.

Senator Speier’s new legislation aims at bringing fairness to the issue so that people who buy the Arts Plate can be assured that all the funds will be used to support local arts programs and arts education activities.

This bill will be heard initially in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee on Tuesday, April 19 at 1:30 p.m. Read the Senator’s Fact Sheet on SB 691 at

Someone Is Looking Out For Our Featured City

Walked around just now, just to feel what a Featured City feels like.

Lori Zook sends this in:

Thanks to the lobbying of a few Bay Area artists organizations, the Contemporary Artists Center in North Adams, MA (CAC NAMA) has chosen to award a minimum 40% fellowship to all artists living or working in the SF Bay Area who apply for residencies by the summer (May 15) or fall (July 15) deadline.

Additionally we will provide one Bay Area artist with a 100% fellowship for a two-week artist residency. The artist will be chosen by LoBot Gallery Director, Adam Hatch, from among all the applications received at the CAC by the postmark date of May 15.

CAC NAMA focuses on emerging, professional contemporary artists. We seek artists who want to produce, explore, test new concepts and take an active role in making the CAC a new type of Research & Development art laboratory. CAC NAMA accepts artists for residencies who offer quality in their art and encourages diversity of style, medium and concepts.

Located in the Berkshire Mountains, CAC NAMA is part of one of the most important contemporary art regions outside of metropolitan cities. The nations largest contemporary visual and performing arts museum, MASS MoCA, is located here, as are the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Tanglewood Music Festival, Jacob’s Pillow Dance, Berkshire Museum as well as other cultural venues.

The Beaver Mill, home of the CAC, is a 130,000 sq ft historic brick and stone mill situated on 27 acres of woodland and adjoining the Natural Bridge State Park. The CAC NAMA comprises 25,000 sq ft of the building and houses five galleries, a residency hall, and approximately 12,000 sq ft of studio space.
During a summer residency, artists also have the opportunity to participate in other CAC programs, including residency exhibitions, studio and museum visits, workshops, demonstrations and artist’s lectures.

CAC NAMA provides merit, need based, or featured city awards to approximately 90% of Residents. Please apply by priority deadlines for consideration. Award amounts range from $50/wk to full cost.

Item 7!

Don’t miss this!

Cultural Affairs Commission
Regular Meeting
Monday, March 28, 2005
5:30 – 7:30pm
City Council Chambers
Oakland City Hall
One Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, 3rd Floor

7. Informational Item
Oral Presentation – Report on 2005-07 Departmental Budget Proposal
Raissa de la Rosa, Cultural Funding Program Coordinator and Steven Huss, Public Art Program Coordinator

I think this is where we will learn that all hell is about to break loose. The Cultural Funding Program just concluded its panel reviews of hundreds of applications for funding from individual artists and arts organizations. Panels recommended over a million in awards… which could be sliced in half if the City’s budget for the arts is adopted by City Council.

Hear it with someone you love.

but I didn’t even wish for it

Got a call from Steve Huss, the city liaison to the Cultural Affairs Commission, and he informed me that I had been appointed Chair, was I aware?


Uncertain whether this represents an apex or a nadir in the Mayor’s engagement in the arts.

Results of ego-check
some cross between three things:

  1. Outrage. Surely ensuring proper leadership of Oakland’s local arts agency would require more than a perfunctory note to staff. Coincidentally the current Harpers has a great re-visit of the monkey-typewriter-shakespeare contemplation, so maybe that’s where we’re at now. It hardly matters who is on the dais for this body because it’s highly unlikely anything will come of our exercising. Unfortunately, I don’t know if we’re playing the role of the monkey or the role of the typewriter. It’s appropriate to the think the Mayor might play the role of Shakespeare.
  2. Forehead Slapping Irony. Leadership appointments are the least of our worries in light of the amputating cuts to arts funding the City is gearing up to implement. But if we can hang with the subject a bit longer: I had numerous conversations with staff and commishees about what the Commission’s resolution’s guidelines were for replacing Chris Johnson, the Chair who termed out of the Commission this month. Staff had a recommendation for the Mayor which included a Vice Chair, but that position is elected annually by the Commission itself, something it hasn’t thought of doing for several years. Who would want to be chair, I repeatedly wrote and said, when s/he would have to preside over the dismantling of the arts agency and the death of the commission itself? How could I be chair, I thought to myself, when my conflicts of interest have led to repeated losses of quorum?
  3. Diabolical Delight. For a wee moment, there is a perception of authority, however restricted, about as close to my persona as is likely to occur ever. As a situationist and a freak, I feel this appointment is a liberation, albeit a liberation to live an Evelyn Waugh book, or a Terry Gilliam movie.

    The future of Oakland Arts is quite horrible from a bureaucratic standpoint, but a thousand flowers continue to bloom. Importantly, it looks as though no one is really paying attention. Since most good things happen when the hall monitor is looking the other way…

Let’s get started.

Studio One Public Art Commission

Had I known this (I was at the meeting! Nothing was mentioned!) I’d-a shouted a leetle earlier:

Please help us announce a great opportunity for lovers of Oakland and the arts. We’re making one last big push to distribute this Call for Artists. It’s been out now since mid-January and the deadline is a few weeks away (March 15). This is a major public art project, open to artists nationally, for the City of Oakland’s own Studio One Art Center. You can assist by passing on the RFQ (attached as a .pdf file) to any artists who might be interested. You can also refer people to the RFQ posted on the Web at:

The Studio One public art project is one of the Measure DD projects approved in the annual public art plan. In January the RFQ was mailed to our database of 1200 artists and posted on numerous websites; we’ve had a lot of interest from artists already. For more information on the project, prospective applicants can contact Christin Hablewitz, Measure DD Public Art Project Manager, at (510) 238-2105.

Thank you,
Steven Huss
Public Art Coordinator

City of Oakland Cultural Arts Department

1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, 9th Floor
Oakland, CA 94612
phone 510.238.4949 fax 510.238.6341

Ring the Bell that Can Still Ring,

forget your perfect offering, there is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

Cultural Affairs Commission Retreat today. It ended in a way no one anticipated, so the universe (via laughing squid) provided its explanation with a random calendar listing driven by the quote above.

Right before the agenda crashed, there was a screeching sound. The little red ball that rolled out in the street is stored out at spokes of a hub. Go get it and throw it back here.

We can get a few more up before it gets too dark to play.

And thanks to these folks for putting on a show that required laughing squid in the first place.