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Express Lane for Bus Yard Art

By Teresa Rochester

Two weeks and two days - that's how long the Arts Commission has to find an artist to begin work on a $65,000 public art project at the soon to be revamped city bus yards.

The art work, which will be located on the southwest corner of the bus yard near the Fifth Street freeway exit ramp, will be part of a new washing, electrical and natural gas station, a fast tracked component of the overall renovation of the city yards. The final Environmental Impact Report for the entire project will be released next month.

The tight time line, which sent Cultural Affairs officials and Art Commissioners scrambling to devise a short list of prospective artists, is to ensure that the station is up and running by the beginning of next year, when a new fleet of environmentally-friendly buses are set to arrive. The deadline for selecting an artist based on a proposed concept is Sept. 15.

"We want it done and (get) the concept to the design firm so we can start that construction," said John Catoe, director of the Big Blue Bus. "That's why Cultural Affairs is working that fast. They've been really accommodating."

Part of the art will be visible from 5th Street and Olympic Boulevard, as motorists heading west exit the 10 Freeway on 5th Street. The bulk of the art, which could include anything from a slant in the building to dramatically painted walls, will grace the inside of the wash and gas station.

"Paint can do amazing things," said Catoe. "Does it have to be bland or can it be an exciting place to work?"

In Santa Monica 1 % of a capital improvement project's budget must be spent on an art component. In this case, state and regional funds are paying for the bus yard renovations and art is not required in the washing and gas station component, which will cost an estimated $6.5 million.

Catoe, however, said the inclusion of art is important. As the Sept. 15 deadline for the final design drew closer, Catoe realized what was missing and turned to the Cultural Affairs Department.

"I appreciate their responsiveness," said Catoe. "They could have said, 'Well John, it's too late.'"

But they didn't and at Monday night's Art Commission meeting commissioners approved a limited competition process, as well as a list of six possible artists (all of whom have experience working on public improvement projects) for the wash and gas station. Four of the artists will be interviewed for the job.

At Monday night's meeting, both commissioners and members of the public worried about the short turn around to find an artist. The Commission's public art committee was first notified in July. Some contend the time line limits the pool of applicants.

"I feel very, very badly that there wasn't an open call," said Commissioner and committee member Elena Allen. "I think the thing that's in jeopardy more than anything is the fairness. We're not able to select lesser-known artists. That's the bad thing. It just limits."

Cultural Affairs Manager, Maria Louisa de Herrera, however, said it is not uncommon to use a variety of ways to find artists for projects, including limited competitions, national searches, direct purchase of artwork or commissioning a particular artist for a project.

"They [art commissioners] pick the project they think will, based on circumstances, elicit the best artwork possible," de Herrera said.
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