By Tyler Callister/Special to The Almanac
The Menlo Park City Council on Tuesday will consider allowing an 18-foot-tall sculpture that was originally featured at the Burning Man festival to be temporarily installed in Fremont Park, in the city's downtown area.
The council will make a decision about the sculpture during its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 11. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.
The proposal for the art project comes from local nonprofit Menlo Park Public Art, which says its mission is to "develop, support and maintain public art that serves the community."
Designed by East Palo Alto-based sculptor Oleg Lobykin, the nebulous abstract art piece is called "Talking Heads." It features a mirror-like surface that allows viewers to see themselves and their surroundings in distorted reflections.
The total cost for loaning the sculpture for a two-year period is about $16,500. However, Menlo Park Public Art has secured private funding for the project, and said it will be of no cost to the city.
The sculpture is meant as a pilot project of the nonprofit art group, which has announced ambitions for a series of public art installations in town. CEO Katharina Powers, who is also the owner of Art Venture Gallery at 888 Santa Cruz Ave., spoke to The Almanac in October about the idea behind the organization.
"In order to do this we have to educate people about the importance of public art, how it can ignite imagination, start a conversation and be a positive part for our community," she said. "Art expands what it is to be human."
The nonprofit has identified other potential art installation sites, including along Bayfront Expressway; on Sand Hill Road between the Rosewood Hotel and the Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club; at the west exit of Marsh Road; and at the Santa Cruz Avenue and El Camino Real intersection, near Cafe Borrone.
Powers first brought the idea of advancing a public art program in Menlo Park to the council last October. In November, the council directed city staff to work with Menlo Park Public Art and come up with a pilot program proposal.
The Parks and Recreation Commission then reviewed it in December. "After receiving public comment, the Commission was supportive of launching a public art program in Menlo Park," the city's recent staff report explains. "They appreciated the initiative by Katharina Powers and the MPPA and viewed the proposal as an opportunity to start a conversation on public art in Menlo Park."
In its December discussion, the commission expressed concern that the sculpture was a one-time project; commissioners said that they would like to see a more developed program that would continue indefinitely.
The commission ultimately decided that in the absence of a full public art plan for Menlo Park, it did not want to commit public funding, but would be open to artwork at no cost to the city. Then on Jan. 15, MPPA notified city staff that it had secured private funding for the project.
The budget for the two-year loan term includes installation at a cost of $5,500, insurance at $1,500, removal of the sculpture after two years at $5,500, additional maintenance/repair at $2,500 per year, and additional insurance at $1,500 per year.
Lobykin's art piece has a 7-by-7-foot base and weighs 2,000 pounds.
The council will take up the matter and decide the sculpture's fate at Tuesday's meeting. Notably, back in October during the council's discussion of the project, Councilwoman Catherine Carlton said that she was a fan of the sculpture and had personally climbed on it while she was at Burning Man in late August.
Also on Tuesday night's agenda are two public hearings:
● The council will consider the Planning Commission's recommendation to approve architectural control, a use permit, major subdivision and a below-market-rate housing agreement for nine single-family homes at 661-687 Partridge Ave.
● The council will consider approving a conditional development permit amendment for a 240-room hotel, and reducing the associated required number of parking spaces at 301 Constitution Drive, a property owned by Facebook.