VSmoothe over at A Better Oakland has a recap of a recent Oakland Planning Commission Meeting in which the above Oaksterdam University signage was judged to violate Oakland business signage size ordinances. As she notes, since “the Planning Commission was clearly sympathetic to Oaksterdam University” discussion turned to redoing the sign as a “mural” or “special sign” in order to skirt the legal issues. As this discussion has been going on for a year, Oaksterdam had already put out an open call to attract artists to redesign the sign as a mural. This is when the Planning Commission decided it was their place to choose which of these public art proposals should go forward.
There is a fundamental problem when the planning commission is choosing artwork. That is not their job, and the fact that they refused the help of Oakland Public Art Advisory Commission is deplorable. Steven Huss politely and rightly offered the PAAC‘s services, since it is their place to help decide on works of public art, but also because they have experience guiding organizations, businesses, and individuals in matters of budget, permits, and the hurdles that one has to cross when working with artwork in the public sphere. But instead, the Planning Commission moved forward with their own opinions, deciding which work had the “broadest appeal” and which was too “on the edge.”
Here’s the one the planning commission preferred:
And here’s what V Smoothe had to say:
I mean, the whole original discussion about the idea of sign or mural was about placemaking. And whether one thinks this mural is pretty or not, it certainly doesn’t have anything to do with the neighborhood. Oaksterdam is not on Lake Merritt, nor is it at Oakland City Hall. I live in the heart of Oaksterdam, and I cannot see either Lake Merritt or City Hall from my apartment. The only thing about the mural that identifies the neighborhood at all is the text with the name of the business. read more>>
If we’re talking about a mural with a purpose for place-making, that mural should be judged not only for relevance to the area and the people there, but also specifically for it’s innovation and interpretation of those concepts. This proposal does not address the specific locality as a place, other than being located in Oakland.
A mural will not assist in place-making if 1. it does not address the specific place and 2. is aesthetically bland. Artworks and architecture can have a drastic effect on the community and pride of an area, especially if it is something that stands out. The TransAmerica Pyramid was deplored when it was built. But what would the San Francisco skyline be without it? Bold moves are sometimes required. Risk is rewarded with awareness, even if some people hate it. Richard Serra’s Titled Arc was eventually removed, but now many people think of Federal Plaza as the place where it existed.
Here are two other top contenders for the Oaksterdam mural:
Since we’re all into voting these days, which do you like the best? Perhaps an art audience has a slightly different opinion than the Planning Commission?