Looking for support of public art
January 11, 2006
Come spring, Truckee will get another injection of the cosmopolitan: contemporary art in the open air. Once the snow melts, the new Martis Outlook building will install the town’s first modern public sculpture. Local steel-worker Anton Standteiner’s winning design will be a 15-foot tribute to the inhabitants of the area – past and present. Two intertwining bands in the sculpture represent the Martis Valley’s native people, the Washoe and Paiute, and its European newcomers. A 12-foot-long foot bench at the base – the key to the piece according to Standteiner – will allow people to look up through the twisted steel or out onto the Martis Valley. The Martis Outlook Development Team, owners of the mixed-used building opening in May across from Truckee Town Hall, incorporated public sculpture into the project in order to to get the approval of the town’s planning committee. Original plans for the project exceeded the town’s lot coverage regulations. To allow for the exemption, the planning commission asked the designers to compensate by offering a public benefit. When asked to do this, builders typically spring for a sidewalk or a bus stop, said Barbara Crowell, an architect on the building who has used public art in projects in other towns. She said she thought a sculpture would be the best choice to satisfy the town’s condition.
“It seemed like a great public benefit. There was no history of it in Truckee,” Crowell said.When the idea was presented to the planning commission, “they all seemed very for it,” she said. However, since no previous sculpture in Truckee had been erected since the 1930s, they were left dry about how to proceed.The architects and lessors of the building, Truckee River Associates, sought out area artist Carole Sesko to organize the selection process for a sculpture. Sesko solicited designs from area artists that would cost less than $20,000, and put together a team of 10 people to choose one. According to Sesko, the committee received 10 entries that all “deserved to be made into sculptures,” but it unanimously chose Standteiner’s design because it was the most fitting for the site. Among other aspects, the sculpture, which will sit at the intersection of Soaring Way and Airport Road, will incorporate the sun’s position in a ring formed at the top of the piece by the two intertwining bands.
Ideas for art Sesko, meanwhile, is leading a movement to get the town to further embrace public art. While Truckee’s General Plan contains language allowing public art, Sesko said that the town needs to develop a standard process for art to be solicited, reviewed, and built. “Public art creates a cultural context for a community,” Sesko said, adding that some of the new buildings in town have lacked a distinctive character.Reno, she says, is a great place to look to for examples. According to Sesko, Reno has instituted a successful program to bring more art into the city’s public spaces. Officials even commissioned a mosaic tile floor from Truckee artists Daniela Garofalo and Dominic Panziera for the Mills B. Lane Justice facility.Sesko said that one of Reno’s more successful moves was to mandate that 2 percent of public and private construction costs fund an art aspect to the project. While she didn’t say that that would necessarily be the best move for Truckee, she did say she thinks it was one proposal worth discussing.
Town Councilman Craig Threshie is working with Sesko to bring in Reno’s art director to give a presentation at the Truckee Town Council’s first meeting in February.”We need to look at the precedent of other mountain towns, and learn from their successes and failures,” Threshie said.The formation of an arts council would be the first step in doing so, he said. Threshie and Sesko both said they recognized that public art can be divisive, and spoke to the need including the town every step of the way. “There will be a lot of people who will be skeptical, as well as they should be,” Threshie said. He said an art committee would need to poll the community and bring them into the decision-making process on selecting art that would be displayed. And where will this art go? With a proposed total of 13 roundabouts, area designers are oiling up their drafting boards.