After posting what I gleaned from the San Diego Museum of Art's "Open Spaces" meeting in Lemon Grove last night, I got an email from Dana Springs, the interim executive director of the city's Commission for Arts and Culture, noting that there were some inaccuracies in what I had heard—or perhaps what I understood and then conveyed to readers.
Here's what stands: The Lincoln Park public-art proposal isn't going to be approved by the city.
Here's what I got wrong: The Arts and Culture Commission wasn't the city entity that rejected the proposal.
Springs says the commission didn't reject the proposal, a plan for a new light sculpture at the intersection of Euclid and Imperial avenues, because it never made it that far. Instead, she said the San Diego Museum of Art's Open Spaces team submitted a draft of the proposal to the city, which then, with commission staff helping to facilitate the process, provided feedback on its feasibility if the proposal were to be formally submitted.
"The feedback we gave the museum was that we did not think it would be successful," Springs wrote in an email.
The reasons are outlined in this email sent to the Open Spaces team. In it, Springs says numerous city staffers reviewed and debated the project and, while everyone agreed the intentions were noble, the unanimous consensus was that the proposal to "install an atypical overhead lighting element at a major four-way traffic intersection simply poses too much risk to people and property. Therefore, the City will not authorize the installation of this artwork as proposed."
Springs did offer Open Spaces the option to resubmit a revised proposal.
Locals call the intersection where the new public artwork was proposed "the four corners of death," because of the high level of gang activity and violence there. The idea was to reclaim the space, in part, through the art, which would've involved suspending LED lighting on stainless-steel cables and connecting the four corners with beams of light.
Roberto Salas, the first artist-in-residence for Open Spaces, helped the community conceptualize the design. He says it took the city more than six months to provide feedback on the draft proposal. He says that while he understands that the city has rules and codes that must be followed, he and the community members he's talked to are disappointed by the city's assessment.
"The light line is a very simple piece," he says. "We were going to get the cable installation done at no cost because it was going to be donated.... It’s really a beautiful piece. I’ve gotten such an incredible response from the public."
Salas says he doesn't agree that the light would surprise or pose a risk to drivers because, he says, people would be able to see the light as they approached from any direction. As for resubmitting a proposal with a new site in mind, he says the piece was site-specific and wouldn't work well anywhere else. He says Open Spaces is grant-funded, which means it comes with a strict deadline, and they simply don't have time to resubmit proposals to the city. Instead, he says, they plan to go back to Lincoln Park, choose another design from a few they came up with at previous meetings and find a location for the piece that isn't on city property.
"Here’s a community that came up with something truly wonderful," Salas says. "I think people unfortunately are used to this type of treatment, especially in a neighborhood in southeastern San Diego, but we will prevail. We will prevail, and we will have something to show for it."
The official statement from SDMA was much more diplomatic:
The San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture has been a very helpful partner in the Open Spaces process. The commission staff helped to facilitate our presentation of information to appropriate departments at the City of San Diego. This project was not approved due to potential safety issues. We understand that multiple city departments participated in review and conversation about this project, and while the city supports our goal of bringing public art to Lincoln Park, it was determined that safety at the intersection would be