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Planning Board Critiques Ambitious Public Art Master Plan

On June 26, City Community Development staff presented a draft of the Public Art Master Plan to the Planning Board for review. Once finalized, the Plan will guide the City’s efforts to support public art, aiming to ensure that it is meaningfully integrated into the community. The presentation focused on the Plan’s recommendations, five-year work plan, and public art location opportunities.

Alameda Post - a bronze sculpture that looks somewhat like a large octopus or squid people can walk under
Calimar,” bronze sculpture by Rossella Scapini. Photo Maurice Ramirez for City of Alameda.

Public Art Master Plan recommendations

The Plan is developing during a time when Public Art Commission (PAC) members are interested in amplifying their work, local creatives seek opportunities, and the community wants to see more public art. City staff are eager to provide opportunities but are constrained by variable contributions to the Public Art Fund. The Fund is only financed when developers choose to contribute to it to meet their public art obligations instead of installing project-site artwork.

Draft recommendations include developing the following:



  1. Opportunities for Alameda artists, culture bearers, and creatives to professionally connect.
  2. Opportunities for locals to develop skills and be involved in creating public art.
  3. A list of prioritized sites for public art.
  4. Opportunities for the community to be involved in and invest in public art.
  5. A mix of artworks in theme, form, and interactivity, ensuring that public art is accessible to people of all abilities.
  6. An action plan for cultural equity, diversity, and inclusion in public art.

These recommendations align with the PAC’s mission and establish priorities.

Alameda Post - two tall columns in a park that lead to a large circular gathering area
“Gateway to California,” mosaic columns by Norman Moore. Photo Maurice Ramirez for City of Alameda.

Five-year plan

Draft recommendations for the next five years are as follows:

  • Year One: Build resources to assist artists, developers, community members, City staff, and the PAC. Examples include developing procedures for artists to pitch public art ideas, professional development opportunities to help local artists build public art skills, and a resource toolkit for developers and PAC members.
  • Year Two: Develop a grant program, including applications to create cultural arts, arts programming, and physical artworks, and explore ways to create consistency in grant opportunities year over year.
  • Year Three: Prioritize sites for physical artworks based upon upcoming public and private development projects, available public locations, and areas where public art does not yet exist.
  • Year Four: Develop advocacy, marketing, and visibility of the public art program by continuing to build on the City’s public art website and developing a plan to sustain public engagement.
  • Year Five: Develop a deaccessioning policy and process.
Alameda Post - McKenna Noonan, 7, student at Love Elementary, pushes one of Zachary Coffin's Rockspinners at Jean Sweeney Open Space Park
McKenna Noonan, 7, student at Love Elementary, pushes one of Zachary Coffin’s Rockspinners at Jean Sweeney Open Space Park on the day of its installation in 2022. Photo Adam Gillitt.

Locations for public art

The draft plan suggests two methods for discerning sites for artworks. The first is identifying municipal development projects, such as the planned roundabout at Clement Avenue/Tilden Way. The second is to partner with the Alameda Recreation and Parks Department (ARPD) to identify park sites. For instance, “Gateway to California” was installed in Jean Sweeney Open Space Park, and “Beken” was installed in the Seaplane Lagoon Promenade.

Board comments

Planning Board member Ronald Curtis asked what the PAC expected the public to take away from the art being presented. Looking at the City’s current art, he said he couldn’t figure out the cultural significance, goal, or intended audience. Development Manager Walker Toma answered that the intention is for the art to be applicable to all groups and not focused on a specific demographic.

Similarly, Vice President Hanson Hom opined that art can educate about history or local culture, and he would like to see more of this type of art that serves more than one purpose. City Planner Allen Tai responded that there used to be an ordinance requiring Alameda public art to have historical or maritime themes. However, the City removed this language to allow for a greater variety of art.

Board member Xiomara Cisneros said she would like the site selection process to be better articulated, particularly in terms of how art will be distributed throughout the community. Board member Asheshh Saheba said he would like clarification on when ARPD can independently approve art in its parks and when the PAC needs to get involved.

Alameda Post - A tall sculpture tower with a hazy sun in the background
Beken,” sculpture by DeWitt Godfrey. Photo Maurice Ramirez for City of Alameda.

Next steps

Based on the comments received, Staff will now revise and present the Public Art Master Plan to the Recreation and Park Commission before bringing the final plan back to the PAC for approval in July. If approved, staff will bring the Plan before City Council for final approval in September 2023.

Contributing writer Karin K. Jensen covers boards and commissions for the Alameda Post. Contact her via [email protected]. Her writing is collected at https://linktr.ee/karinkjensen and https://alamedapost.com/Karin-K-Jensen.

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