Public art: better than parking.

Do you guys remember a couple of years ago when the Redevelopment Agency decided that they desperately wanted to turn the empty lot at 19th and Broadway Telegraph into a “temporary” parking lot?

If you’re new around these parts, this old post will get you all caught up. In short, staff wanted to take one of the most trafficked and lively intersections in downtown Oakland and ruin it by sticking a new surface parking lot there.

Becks asked her readers to brainstorm better temporary uses for the space than a parking lot, and got tons of great suggestions. Readers contacted the City Council to support an alternative plan to put art in the space instead of parking, lots of people came out and waited for hours to speak at the City Council meeting, and told the Council they wanted something better than a parking lot for this space.

19th and Telegraph

Happily, and to my great shock, the Council agreed, and said that the lot should be used for temporary public art installation. But then that never happened, for stupid reasons.

But then, in October, the City was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to turn the sculpture garden into a reality. Hooray!

Next Tuesday, the City Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee will be asked to accept the grant (PDF), as well as authorize the matching funds required by the NEA grant, which will come from the Central District Public Art Fund. From the staff report (PDF):

The appropriation of the NEA grant responds to City Council direction to staff to create a low-cost, interim arts use for “Parcel 4,” the currently vacant Agency-owned development site located along Telegraph Avenue between the Fox Theater and The Uptown apartments (the “Property”). The grant requires a one-to-one local match, which can be met with funds already appropriated for Central District Public Art. Staff is also pursuing private funds and in-kind contributions. Temporary exhibitions of art will be rotated every six to twelve months until the initiation of construction on a permanent development.


Development of the temporary art installation at Parcel 4 will transform a vacant and blighted property into a temporary outdoor cultural space, activating and enhancing this underutilized site, creating a sense of place and complementing many of the cultural assets in the district. Detailed engineer’s estimates on development costs for this project have been development and the project is feasible.

Given the two main constraints of the site — a limited budget and the need to retain the parcel as a future development site — the programming and scope for site preparation is minimal. The proposed installation will include:

  • Site grading
  • Decorative (chain link) fence
  • Installation of decomposed granite gravel, sub-grade sculpture pads and a basic lighting package to illuminate the artwork
  • Lighting across 19th Street to connect the space to the Fox and enclose the street, activating the installations and their immediate area at night.

And what kind of art can we expect to see here? Again, from the staff report (PDF):

Two pipelines are envisioned for bringing public art to Parcel 4, all of which will be selected through arts/community-based panels making recommendations to the City of Oakland Public Art Advisory Committee, or by the Committee itself:

  • CAMD’s Public Art Program will commission new work, both permanent and temporary, for this site. Permanent works will debut in the Parcel 4 art installation for an extended period of display and then be rotated to other City or Redevelopment owned sites. These projects will be commissioned with Cenral Business District 1 1/2% for Art funds.
  • CAMB will partner with local arts organizations such as Black Rock Arts Foundation to provide existing works of art.

Get a preview of what’s in store on Wednesday

So here’s the best part. You don’t have to wait until the Committee meeting next Tuesday to see what’s planned for this space.

Conveniently, the Cultural Arts & Marketing Department has planned a little preview presentation for tomorrow, Wednesday, February 16th.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, as a matter of fact, that does happen to be the same night as the Planning Commission is discussing a proposal to bring more surface parking lots to downtown. Conveniently, this presentation will be taking place from 6 to 8 pm in Hearing Room 2, directly across the hall from where the Planning Commission is meeting.

So if you come out to speak against the TCUPs, while you’re waiting, you don’t have to sit through boring conversations about cell phone towers. You can just fill out your speaker card and go hang out across the hall hearing about how this community has demanded better than parking lots in the past, and won, and now something great is happening because of it! When the TCUP item gets called, we’ll come over and get you. Killer way to pass the time, if you ask me.

Congratulations again to everyone who fought for this alternative that is now becoming a reality, and I hope to see both familiar faces and new ones tomorrow night, so we can do it all over again.

4 thoughts on “Public art: better than parking.

  1. annalee allen

    just think how nice it will be to go on a free Uptown walking tour and learn about the new public art (when the time comes).

  2. Brian

    V- There’s a typo, it’s 19th and Telegraph

    I can’t wait for this to happen. First Friday is going to be off the hook!