City passes on public art piece
Committee wants an 'appropriate cultural design.'
Does anyone doubt that art is subjective?
The School Board unanimously approved artwork comprising eight panels planned for district headquarters property last month but a city advisory committee decided the figures portrayed are not a proper representation of Pleasanton.
"Blending Family," created on aluminum by New Mexico artist Guilloume, is 56 feet long and 6 feet tall. The front, depicting a variety of people, is oil painted and sealed; the plan was for students to create images to be placed on the back of the artwork.
When the piece of art was reviewed by members of Pleasanton's Public Art Selection Committee, known as PASS, its members responded positively but with reservations.
"They all loved it," said Susan Andrade-Wax, director of the Community Services Department. "They saw pictures of it installed in other locations, and photos of the artist doing it. It looks very Southwestern, this is what it conjures up."
For this reason, she said, subcommittee members did not think it was a fit for Pleasanton and asked if it could be changed so the figures looked more diversified and representative of this city.
"Blending Family" was another find by Nancy and Gary Harrington, who have established a public art partnership called Another HAPPY, which stands for Another Harrington Art Partnership Piece for You. They travel the world looking for likely art, then match donations after it is acquired.
"Blending Family" had 33 individual characters the artist created to celebrate his 33rd year as an artist, said Nancy Harrington, and he looks at it as a portrait of his children, aunts, uncles and other family members.
"It was the first time we've gone and talked with the PASS subcommittee and they asked us a few questions," Harrington recalled. "They said they did not feel it was an 'appropriate cultural design.'"
Asking him to alter it was not an option.
"This is his style," Harrington said. "He's from Colombia, his style is three round shapes. It would have been a wonderful piece."
The Harringtons, retired teachers, have made it their mission to erect public art pieces in Pleasanton, where they have lived since 1972. The bronzed veteran in front of the Veterans Memorial Building and the art surrounding the Firehouse Arts Center, including the marquee, have come from them, and its Harrington Art Gallery was named after them.
In December 2010, when the Harringtons were stepping up their efforts, the Civic Arts Commission instituted the selection subcommittee to look at all the ideas for public art, to make the process more efficient. Sometimes dozens of pieces are being considered at a time, said Andrade-Wax.
Subcommittee members include commissioners, the city's visual arts coordinator, a representative from the Pleasanton Downtown Association, the Civic Arts manager, and a city engineer, who weighs in on whether a piece of art might impact traffic flow. A city architect studies anything planned for a park to make sure the site has no drawbacks, such as water harming the art.
"Often the Harringtons give us several pieces to choose from, and the subcommittee decides what they like, what they think fits, and the staff weighs in on possible locations," Andrade-Wax said. "For pieces the staff is leaning toward, those recommendations are given back to the Harringtons."
"Depending on the feedback, they might decide not to bring it forward," she added, saying that many art pieces are stopped due to problems with proposed locations.
Once art is selected, it goes to the Civic Arts Commission, then to the City Council for approval.
"Blending Family" took a different route toward approval, Andrade-Wax explained, going first to the school district since it was planned for its property on Bernal Avenue just past First Street.
"The Harringtons wanted to make sure the school board was interested and was OK with having it on their property," she said.
"They went there and everybody got excited. Then it comes to the PASS committee, who loved the location, loved the concept of children participating, but didn't feel the artwork on the other side was a fit," Andrade-Wax said.
"Blending Family" was going to be funded through a community drive, in keeping with it being a community project completed by children from Pleasanton.
The next piece of public art to be installed through Another HAPPY is "Windsong," a 15-feet-tall colorful depiction of a windsurfer. It will be located in the grassy area just north of the Pleasanton Senior Center building near Sunol Boulevard. The Harringtons discovered the artist, Gregory Hawthorne, while traveling on Highway 1 through Big Sur.
"He gave us a tour not only of the gallery but his home," Nancy Harrington recalled.
On his coffee table was a smaller version of "Windsong."
"It's gorgeous," said Harrington. "We looked at that grassy area, and that expanse of lawn is like the ocean and this 'Windsong' is a surfer."
Another piece in the works is a bronze by Angela Mia De La Vega called "Joyful Empowerment," which depicts a young girl on top of the world with her hands extended. Including the pedestal, it will stand about 70 inches tall, Harrington said, but its location is undecided.
Bob and Marilyn Athenour are partnering to procure "Joyful Empowerment" but the Harringtons are still looking for partners to help with the recently installed "Comet" at the Firehouse Arts Center and "Windsong."
To learn more, go to www.harringtonartpartnership.org or call 846-9757.
View public art
Pleasanton's more than 40 publicly and privately owned pieces of public art can be viewed online at www.publicartarchive.org/Pleasanton.