“A 25-year-old mandate requires that developers with large projects in the Financial District and along upper Market Street must spend at least 1 percent of their total construction budget on public art. But Luis Cancel, The City’s director of cultural affairs, believes there is insufficient aesthetic oversight of this spending.
Without providing specific examples of what he regards as subpar work, Cancel said there is support on the San Francisco Arts Commission for requiring developers to obtain that body’s approval before commissioning public art. Today, the commission will consider such a proposal from its staff.”
San Francisco may oversee downtown developers’ art selections [SFExaminer]
San Francisco Arts Commission Agenda: April 4, 2011 [sfgov3.org]

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    There are examples of sub-par work in other bay area cities with similar art allocation requirements. That dorky looking stainless steel stick figure dude peeking out of the brutalist campanile in Mt.View’s Goggleland is one. Cupertino seems to do a little better though.
    Not sure how to accomplish this but it seems as if some great stuff could be done if the 1% withholding could be folded into the exterior architecture finishes in some cases. Otherwise sculptors will be responding to RFQs for public art pieces “costing at least X and not to exceed Y”. That leads to contrived results.

  2. Posted by lyqwyd

    Great, more bureaucracy. That’s what San Francisco needs.

  3. Posted by unwarrantedinlaw

    Is your brother in law an artist, Mr. Luis Cancel, Director of Culture? Perhaps we will be able to work something out.

  4. Posted by noearch

    This is just more bureaucratic bullshit. The developer is already required to spend 1% on public art, which they do.
    Let the developer and HIS selected team of artists/craftspersons decide what the art shall be.
    The last thing we need are government art critics.

  5. Posted by sfrenegade

    Milkshake’s got it right. What a ridiculous bureaucratic requirement. This is yet another thing the city could do itself if it was such a big priority, instead of forcing developers to make ridiculous determinations. I’m assuming it would be controversial if the city itself decided on artwork, so that’s why they’re pretending that private developers are making the decisions. All this will do is make entrenched interests in the city even more powerful.

  6. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    I’m not opposed to the 1% art earmark though I wonder how it can be better employed. Since “art” is so subjective this earmark is ripe for kickbacks and exploitation.
    Though getting SFAC in the loop adds bureaucracy it also adds legitimacy. Assuming that the SFAC has members experienced with curatorial duties they are in a better position to judge the artistic merit of candidate projects.
    It is unrealistic to expect perfection in this process but that doesn’t make it worthless. Though embarrassing turds are erected under this scheme, there are often inspiring and enduring works put into place as well. Hopefully getting the SFAC involved will improve things. A bottom-line motivated developer won’t always be thinking of the public’s best interest.

  7. Posted by noearch

    I don’t agree with MOD in this case. He’s going down a very slippery slope.
    Suddenly we are going to have “experts” or a certain body of people decide what is “good” art or “bad” art. And what if you still disagree with them MOD? then what?
    Not a good idea. Stifles creativity and makes some people “special” when they really aren’t.

  8. Posted by sfrenegade

    Maybe I misread Milkshake, but this comment seemed to be against this requirement.
    “Otherwise sculptors will be responding to RFQs for public art pieces “costing at least X and not to exceed Y”. That leads to contrived results.”

  9. Posted by sfrenegade

    Sorry, I missed Milkshake’s second comment. NEVERMIND. I thought the original comment was suggesting the 1% requirement is stupid to begin with.

  10. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Sorry folks, I could have been clearer. To clarify I think that :
    – new construction should include art to enhance the public realm.
    – the selection process should include a range of stakeholders. Those in the decision chain should care about the impact and legacy of the art selected. If the developer alone selects the art we might or might not get something worthwhile. If it is left to a democratic process then we’ll get Thomas Kinkade dreck and/or bronze statues of little boys playing tug-o-war with a dog (or worse : dolphins jumping in unison). It is wise to include art scholars in the loop, don’t you think?
    – the 1% gross funding source requirement is contrived and ripe for graft. It also artificially constrains the target art to a specific “piece”, excluding thematic or conceptual solutions to enhance public space.
    So I support conditions on private developers to add art to the public realm as well as getting experts involved in the selection process, whether that be the SFAC or some other body. I don’t really like the funding technique though don’t have a better funding idea either. Hopefully this doesn’t add more confusion.

  11. Posted by noearch

    I hear what you are saying MOD. You clarified your position well.
    However, I still disagree. You are assuming this body of “art scholars” will be speaking for the public opinion and holding that opinion in high regard for the selection of outstanding art. That’s a huge assumption.
    And if this group of art scholars still loves a Thomas Kinkade sculpture of little boys riding dolphins under a damn Christmas tree, then what?
    You can’t simply start believing that a chosen set of judges will satisfy everyone’s taste in art, or even anyone. False assumption.

  12. “And if this group of art scholars still loves a Thomas Kinkade sculpture of little boys riding dolphins under a damn Christmas tree, then what?”
    … then we’re all doomed. Saddle up the dolphins Clem, we’re outta here!

    If we’re going to have public art then some tiny segment of the public must select what gets installed. I’d prefer those somebodies to be people who think a lot about and deeply care about art. How best to find such people?
    While not everything installed at SFMOMA appeals to me I don’t expect it to either. But well curated venues always eventually deliver and sometimes with a grand slam.

  13. Posted by noearch

    All I can say on this one MOD is that you’re seriously off.
    I think you should be appointed Head of All Public Art Selection on the Planet.

  14. Posted by OneEyedMan

    1% of these projects is a not insignificant sum. The “public” art provided on some projects has been purchased from the private collections of the developer. A little sunshine cannot harm this process.

  15. Posted by noearch

    Yes it can harm the process.
    Witness the antics the Planning Commission engages in when reviewing a new building or residential addition:
    “Can you make the beige a little darker?”
    “I’d like to see more brackets at the cornice line. I have those on my house and they look nice.”
    “I don’t support that little window up there to the right. It doesn’t look right.”
    “My favorite kind of tile is spanish. Could the builder add that to the bay windows?”
    And on and on and on.
    That’s why this insane process would be harmful.
    An artist MUST demand freedom from censorship or design by committee.

  16. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Who said anything about censorship? And why do you feel that a good artist would have a better chance of being selected by a developer compared to an arts committee?
    My impression is that the commission wouldn’t be micro managing an artist’s work, just selecting a piece from multiple candidates.
    Nice try at cranking up the FUD though.

  17. Posted by noearch

    ok, mod. whatever.
    You’re trying to be high and mighty with lofty ideals of “caring about art”. bs.
    And the same time you’re trying to stifle creativity and somehow think an “appointed” bunch of so called art scholars have all the answers.
    Another example of a mediocre public commission trying to decide what’s best for the public.

  18. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    I never said that a committee would have all the answers, just that they could do a better job. How have you determined that the commission is mediocre? If you have a better solution then please elaborate.
    The status quo involves a conflict of interest which can work against the public interest.
    And there’s nothing “high and mighty” with caring about art. Just as important is that 1% ear mark benefits the public rather than being embezzled away via Hollywood accounting.

  19. Posted by noearch

    MOD: you have no idea what you’re talking about.
    Last thing we need in this over commit-teed city is more committees and more bureaucracy.

  20. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    noearch – Why not back your argument with details rather than a blanket dismissal? If your case is valid then it should not be too hard. You could start by answering some of the questions posed.

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