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"Color of Palo Alto" is costly and still colorless

Original post made by diana diamond on Mar 2, 2007

Colorless. That's so far what the color of Palo Alto is. Several years ago, artist Sam Yates was awarded a $10,000 grant by Palo Alto's Public Arts Commission to develop "The Color of Palo Alto" by taking a photograph of every house in town and then digitally mixing the colors up to create the official color of this city — and drape City Hall with a film covering that includes all the house photos. Someone was then going to manufacture a paint that we could buy to paint our houses the color of Palo Alto. And the police and fire departments were going to use his photos to help find our houses.

Four or so years later, Yates is still not done with his project, but he's been given an extra $55,000 for his yet-unfinished work. The bulk of the money — $40,000 — came as a gift from Hewlett Packard and the other $15,000 came from the commission, according to Linda Craighead, executive director of the Palo Alto Art Center, who staffs the commission. Total amount Yates received to date: $65,000.

Craighead said Yates said the work would be completed by September. I hope so. Originally we were told it would be done in a year. Yates now lives in Los Angeles, and is into his digital mix stage, Craighead said. When he's completed Part I (determining the color), then Part II of the project will be to wrap City Hall in a film-like material (similar to the buses covered with film) so that all our houses will be visible on the building's walls.

Yates had been working out of a small make-shift garage-like structure plopped on top of the circular garden in front of City Hall, which is an eyesore in itself. When he's finished, the garage will come down, thank goodness.

This whole project has taken an inordinate amount of time. And I had no idea Yates was getting all this additional money for it. I am also guessing the color of Palo Alto will be "mud," since if you mix a lot of colors together you get a muddy brown. But knowing this city, the color may fortuitously turn out to be "green."

The commission originally awarded $10,000 commissions to three artists to artistically dress up the plaza in front of city hall. One went to Yates and the other two of these were "temporary" projects. One of the two was a carriage-type construction by artist Marta Thoma, who already had received two other commissions from the city for "Go Mama" on California Avenue (the 6-foot sculpture of a doll with a girl's face on her belly) and for "Rrrrun." a 5-foot-tall leg-turned-car sculpture sitting on a mound at Bowden Park on Alma Street across from the California Avenue train station. Both have received mixed reviews, like in "hate it" or "love it."

I cannot figure out why the commission would give $10,000 to an artist for a temporary display, nor can I figure why one artist would get three commissions from the city, nor do I really understand why Yates, who originally agreed to do the project for $10,000, has now received $65,000.

I happen to think art is very important, and the city should spend money on public art. I also think the art should not be funky.

City Manager Frank Benest recently suggested cutting $25,000 from the commission's budget next year. I originally thought that was a bad idea. Now I am not so sure.


Comments (16)

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2007 at 5:24 pm

All public art should be donated.


Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 2, 2007 at 6:30 pm

That money is from a part of the budget unofficially called "fritter money". Fritter here, fritter there........and then cut money for Adolescent Services? I guess it could also be called funny money. GREAT BLOG. Wish you would write in the Weekly every week. We need you.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2007 at 11:47 pm

GOOD GRIEF! I thought at least Hewlett-Packard had more sense.

I'd cut the entire arts commission budget. I believe art is important and wonderful and enriching. But if your roof is leaking or your house needs painting or your insurance is due, you don't go out and buy art.

The city has absolutely no sense of priorities!

And yes, Kate, I too would like to see Diana Diamond's brilliant writing more often!


Posted by k, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 3, 2007 at 9:58 am

the minute you mentioned the 'Go Mama'sculpture, I cringed. It's a natural reaction.


Posted by howard, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 4, 2007 at 3:25 pm

Yes, as you mentioned, and as any child would know, when you mix a bunch of colors together, you get dark brown. So ... the color of Palo Alto is ... bull-s___!


Posted by juliet, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2007 at 5:47 pm

An artist friend told me the result would be brown too.
Yates had a public meeting last year, explaining what he was doing. He sounded like an engineer/marketing person. (maybe that's the connection with HP?)
He had plans to sell tshirts and all kinds of things to kids and to the owners of homes he had taken pictures of. I went because I thought I would learn something about the way modern artists think and work. What a disappointment. It was marketing and self promotion.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 4, 2007 at 9:13 pm

Only Palo Alto would waste time on a "art project" like this. Now this "artist" wants to sell t-shirts and homeowners pictures of their homes. What a ripoff! Any money made "off the side" of this project should go to the city.
And please remove that eyesore (Yates box) from the front of cityhall.


Posted by Designer, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2007 at 11:18 pm

I'd like to offer a slightly opinion. First of all, I feel that this is a great article written by Diana. It brings the issue out to the people of Palo Alto. In a sense, public art is indeed "donated" (it's hard to define that word anymore especially with city budgets) because the funds are gathered from mostly new construction of civic/commercial/etc. projects from what I know. I think the idea of the project is great though I've never seen concept images of any sort and the website has not been updated in over a year. It frustrated me that more money has had to be "donated" to push the project along but one should be paid to keep his/her deadline for any kind of project. The initial budget for the project was indeed small however for a public art project of this scale, but I believe the artist had a choice whether or not to accept the challenge. I have personally emailed the artist a few minuted before writing my response due to the fact that the project is still not finished and feel that others need to also give an encouraging push for Mr. Yates to indeed wrap this thing up.


Posted by Maria, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2007 at 7:32 pm

One man's junk is another man's treasure - we'll never all agree on what is good public art, so someone has to make a decision. I do agree the artist should have been more realistic about the cost, but as to HP's donation, they are free to spend their money on what they wish. Perhaps the complainers should volunteer to be on a city arts commission?


Posted by Veritas, a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2007 at 9:17 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by annette, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 12, 2007 at 10:50 pm

If I recall correctly, Sam's project scope was to come up with a color for PA, not provide the City with photos for the GIS and do all this additional work for the City. Do you think the City could get photo's of all the parcels within the city limits for the use of the Planning Dept, Police Dept, and Fire Dept for $40k or $55k? I think not if you look at the dollar amounts that the city issues for its contract services.

I would take a wild guess and say that all this other work that he has been sidelined into is at least partly the reason for a colorless PA. PA's color, another victim of the "PA process"?


Posted by Visitor, a resident of University South
on Apr 20, 2007 at 4:21 pm

Yesterday was the first time in the three plus months that I have been in Palo Alto that I actually walked up to the Yates installation at City Hall to see what it was. I found it amusing and was intrigued by the premise and thought I'd check out the web site to see what the Color turned out to be. What a surprise to learn that so far, no color, and even more, that there are people concerned about this who have commented so recently. I don't blame people for being disappointed that the artist hasn't come through as promised and planned.

I also want to comment on Palo Alto's public art. I have taken many walks around the downtown area, and through neighborhoods. I am struck by the amount of art and pleasing architecture. Some is easily identified as "public" and some seems to be a kind of "corporate" gift--interesting and witty architectural and sculptural details on office and bank buildings. My favorite is the series of Greg Brown murals--these are an absolute community treasure and Palo Alto should be commended for maintaining them. I can't imagine anyone passing by being able to feel grumpy or sad when they see the boy fishing through the window of the post office!

Anyway, I'm a visitor to your fair city, and I just want to compliment the citizens who have the wisdom to support public art--even if sometimes it doesn't fit one's taste--you have a real treasure here, and I'm sorry there isn't a color of Palo Alto. I was hoping it would be an adobe red, or a brilliant golden yellow, or the color of a California poppy, or the blue of the afternoon sky. Or purple.


Posted by sGary, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2007 at 12:50 pm

public art should cost us nothing...I have yet to see anything worth while looking at...what a waste of money... I say cut the entire budget and look for private funding.


Posted by derek, a resident of another community
on Aug 7, 2008 at 12:59 am

This is a project about systems, and its understanding will surely deepen over time. Those that do not actively study art should not be so quick with shortsighted remarks...


Posted by Enough Already PLEASE!, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 7, 2008 at 4:41 am

Our city has become littered with art junk - Not even the Baylands (a.k.a. the DUMP) was spared! I suggest that we move it all out there - to the recycling center.

These self proclaimed artists are cluttering up out city.
Every park is has been littered.
Isn't the graffiti from the kids enough already?

When the elementary school kids begin to comment and giggle about the ridiculous art around town, I think this speaks volumes.

They are new generation which will have to figure out how to get rid of it - eventually, when we are gone.

The artists should be required to arrange for transportation and recycling of these pieces after a limited amount of time.


Posted by Guy that broke into Sam's garage once as a joke. Haha, a resident of Portola Valley
on Sep 14, 2009 at 2:35 am

Think practically; What is the average salary of a Palo Alto Resident? $10,000 for a one year project is Not enough money to even come close to surviving in Palo Alto, let alone accomplishing a project like this that has high material costs (here I'm speaking of the garage, though I know he used a lot of salvaged materials). If you support art, but think all art should be "donated" (presumably you mean given away for free by the artist) then you're not supporting good art. Nothing against hobbyists, but you have to be all in if you want to make something aesthetically and conceptually challenging. But maybe all these arguments are proof that pure art should just stay in the white-box galleries, though I'd hate to see that.


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