Monday afternoon the Public Arts Commission met. On the agenda was an update on the repair of Queen Califia’s Magical Circle, the sculpture garden in Kit Carson Park created by artist Niki de Saint Phalle. Free for visiting from morning until night since its opening in October of 2003, it was closed last year. Here are brief notes from Union Tribune articles on the subject:
May 30, 2013 Iconic sculpture garden closed. Vandalism and other damage have prompted Escondido to close an iconic piece of public art that attracts visitors from around the county and the world.
September 30, 2013 City, foundation to fund sculpture gardenrepairs An independent art consultant reported that ..the garden had suffered from neglect, the use of recycled sewer water to clean the sculptures and malfunctioning security cameras.
January 16, 2014 Iconic sculptures getting repaired The garden was open from sunrise to sunset before it was closed in May because of deterioration and some damage from vandalism.
I learned at Monday’s meeting that most of the damage at Queen Califia’s is not from vandalism. In fact, the people from the Niki de Saint Phalle foundation were impressed with how well the art had stood up being outside, alone and open for ten years. (In Europe, her sculpture gardens are closed in the winter and are supervised by paid staff.) So why the damage? Most of it is the result of design, material and construction problems — the spalling of tiles not made for exterior applications, water and moisture seeping behind tiles and causing them to come loose, mirrored tiles too thin to take foot traffic cracking — are three examples. Some of this is being repaired now but there will be more issues to deal with in the future.
The report states that Vandalism is a big problem at the park, especially due to a lack of security. The current security system is run by solar power, which is not reliable since the solar panel is partially obstructed by a tree. Furthermore, Parks staff and police are unable to identify the people caught on tape. Petty damage to mirrors, tiles, and stones is pervasive…some of the more appealing stones, like agate and mother of pearl, have been pulled out by vandals or birds. Youths have been observed running along the tops of the walls and climbing on the sculptures.
There appears to be almost universal agreement that Queen Califia’s needs protection from vandalism but I am not sure we make the place available for visitors if we’re going to operate with only volunteer docents since it is very difficult to maintain reliable hours of operation with volunteers unless you have someone running the whole operation. But there are options to consider:
1. Get the security cameras running on dependable power.
2. Consider open hours when vandalism usually doesn’t occur. (If it’s kids who do the damage, have it open during school hours.)
3. Hire some docents — I mean pay them money. My experience working at a museum is that older people are dependable. There are also many living on fixed income who would love to make extra cash. We don’t need armed guards, just folks with a walkie talkie willing to keep an eye. (We could also save on the cost of printing the beautiful brochure on the exhibition by providing laminated copies to the docents who could pass them out to folks when they arrive and retrieve them when they leave.)
4. I don’t know if the kids in the surrounding schools come to Queen Califia’s for an art lesson. If not, they should, along with some discussion (the advice of a professional might be helpful) about the problem of vandalism and why it matters. This might be a good way to work with the Arts Partnership.
5. Friends of Kit Carson Park were brought up in the meeting. I am sure they will be interested in playing an active role in the Queen’s future.
Queen Califia’s Magical Circle is a major art installation — the only sculpture garden by this artist in the whole United States — and it brings visitors to Escondido from all over. But it must be repaired, maintained and protected. And that requires money, money that at this time comes from the Public Art Fund (click image to enlarge). Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the Public Art Fund, where its funding comes from and whether it will continue to be a fund providing the money necessary to keep public art a part of Escondido.