Port of San Diego Public Art

Artist proposals for the lighting of the iconic Coronado Bay Bridge are due in less than a month, and then the Port of San Diego Public Art Committee’s work will really begin. June 6 marks the end of the submission period and the beginning of the selection process for the Port’s signature project, in which they are collaborating with CalTrans and the City of Coronado.

The pressure is on for the committee and the artists alike, as this project is intended to be the public artwork to represent the city.

“With all of the artwork that’s been done in San Diego, the response has consistently been, ‘Well, what does that have to do with San Diego?’ or ‘That doesn’t represent San Diego,’” said PAC Director Catherine Sass. “None of those pieces has ever been intended to do that, to be an icon for the city, but clearly that’s something the community desires… Over the years membership at the PAC has discussed their desire to use some of the money to have an iconic piece or a signature piece.”

In 2003 the Port started looking for a site around San Diego Bay. It quickly became an obvious choice, said Sass.

“The icon for San Diego is the bridge, and it’s also very meaningful because it’s regionally visible… It’s a great site,” Sass said.

Lighting the bridge is anticipated to cost approximately $2-3 million for the design, fabrication and installation. That amount must cover all project fees including artist and consultant fees, materials and fabrication costs, installation, site-preparation, traffic control costs, legal fees, insurance, permit fees, taxes, travel-related fees, and documentation of the project.

The Public Art program is funded by a set-aside of 0.5 percent of the Port’s projected gross revenues each year, and by dedication of 1 percent of project budgets on all new construction, according to Port bylaws.

“Our job is… to bring people down to the waterfront to support these businesses, and… to make it more engaging for people to come and use the tidelands for recreation. The art fits hand in hand with that,” said Sass. “Most of our money comes from the [port] tenants.”

The program’s annual income, however, is only about $750,000 and must also cover operational costs and fund other public art projects like the Urban Trees, which is budgeted at $140,000, and the North Embarcadero Picnic Tables, at $6,000.

The rest of the funds for the bridge lighting, then, are expected to come from grants, none of which the PAC had secured to date. In fact, the PAC set aside only $50,000 for the bridge project initiation, which included developing the project parameters, marketing, and receiving artist’s submissions, though this period is supposed to include around $75,000 (or up to $15,000 each) for the five semi-finalist artists/teams to further develop their lighting proposals. This is before any of the proposed pieces have been selected, manufactured, or installed. A timeline for installation of the piece, once it is chosen, has not been determined yet.

The PAC applied for a grant through CalTrans, with whom they’ve partnered on this project, but they did not receive it, according to Jocelyn De Piolenc, executive assistant to the PAC, but they’re still optimistic.

A finalist in the project selection should to be chosen by November, though if no additional funds can be secured the bridge lighting will have to be shelved for the time being.

“Let’s not think that way!” said De Piolenc. “We are expecting to get regional funding in support of this project but no, there’s no Plan B if that doesn’t happen.”

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