Chris D. Cracker
Every city wants to be remembered for its artwork. Whether it’s Athens and its Acropolis, Rome and its Forum, or San Francisco with its Embarcadero, art measures the city. Yountville has used its resources to build thoughtful and exquisite art forms throughout its city limits. The city of Napa is trying to catch up by taxing many urban hotel developments. According to the city’s Public Art Master Plan, PAMP, the city, “is committed to developing and maintaining high-quality, sustainable public art that will benefit current citizens and future generations. Public art is an essential component of a thriving community.” (https://www.cityofnapa.org/ DocumentCenter/View/691/Public-Art-Master-Plan-PDF?bidId=)
The city’s Public Art Ordinance collects 1% of the construction cost of all new projects worth $250,000 or more and places it in a public art fund to be used to acquire and install public art throughout the city. The value of the fund is currently estimated at approximately $2.3 million, of which $1.6 million is allocated to specific projects.
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These funds were raised specifically for the arts, however the City of Napa’s Parks and Recreation Department requested $500,000 in funds to create “playable art” in Fuller Park. Parks and Rec is using its goal of building a structure in partnership with City Public Works along with a steering committee, which represents an unprecedented bad example of how funds allocated for specific municipal uses can be misused.
This is a questionable proposition and the latest order now appears to be $750,000. The Public Art Fund is specifically designed to create public works of art, and is not appropriate for use on playground equipment. Parks and Rec points to one statement in PAMP that says, “Public art can include play equipment designed by artists…” The target site of Fuller Park already has a large, high-quality, ADA-accessible playground.
The recommended project design team includes an industrial designer and a landscape architect, but no artists. There is no design or vision present, just abstract concepts. The real design company is SPEC, a Belmont playground equipment company. Their website is impressive and has interesting examples but is not relevant here. I’m not sure how well their examples meet federal or state ADA requirements. (https://www.specplay.com/)
The Parks and Rec Department has gone so far as to establish a Fuller Park Play Art Thematic Committee to “develop and refine the thematic concept for this project. The sixteen-member committee will include representatives from both the Public Art Steering Committee (PASC) and the Parks, Recreation and Trees Advisory Committee (PRTAC) Along with dozens of representatives from local stakeholder groups.
So far, there is no design or concept for this, but money is being spent precariously.
I reached out to renowned local artist Gordon Heather, whose studio specializes in public art, having created more than 10,000 entries nationwide. “There are over 400 public art programs across the United States and none of them use their public art funds to purchase playground equipment,” he noted. “It is unprecedented in the world of public art.”
A quick look at the numbers shows that $750,000 would empty the art fund. I strongly believe that the City Council should look at this carefully now before more funds are embezzled and should make a decision on whether or not it wants to redirect the allocated funds, specifically intended for public art, toward playground equipment. There are questions I think the City Council should consider now:
1. Is this a suitable location for a new stadium, as there is already a perfectly usable stadium?
2. Does the city have to waste another penny to have a design proposal and a real budget for the study?
3. How much have the Parks and Rec arts funds spent so far on this project?
We know that cities are defined by more than art but by citizen pride. Napa is amazingly diverse and artwork should spread among our neighborhoods. Art should be controversial, making us think, argue and challenge the norm. Not all art is appreciated at first, but if it makes us think, it does its job.
Chris D. Craiker AIA/NCARB loves art that challenges us to think.