Temescal residents give their feedback on proposed mural
on December 9, 2009
Only about a dozen neighbors came to a community meeting at the Temescal branch library Tuesday evening, but the small turnout did not discourage people from voicing their artistic opinions about a mural project intended to transform the 52nd Street underpass between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Shattuck Avenue.
The Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District (TTBID) held the first non-board meeting to introduce the community to the mural that will serve as a new landmark and connect lower Temescal and the Children’s Hospital, which sits on the edge of Temescal district, to the Telegraph Avenue business district.
Sketches of the mural were displayed on isle in a small room downstairs in the library. The purpose of the meeting was to invite the community to give feedback, criticism and ideas for the mural and the board and the artist would then brainstorm to incorporate some the community’s feedback.
“The mural will be a gateway to Temescal,” said Alan Leon, the muralist who was selected for the job last summer. “We want to make it inviting instead of a barrier.”
Bill Lambert, a project volunteer and a TTBID board member, said the board hopes the underpass project will transform the “high traffic, stinky, unsafe, not well lighted, trashy area” into a lively welcoming entrance into Temescal.
Lambert said the board received a $60,000 grant from the Oakland Cultural Arts Commission, which makes recommendations to fund artistic and art organizations in the city. But, before the board could do anything they had to seek approval from CalTrans because the pillars, which will be painted, are CalTrans property. CalTrans approved the board’s plan, but had one request — that the artwork not be distracting to drivers.
Traffic studies show that 100,000 cars pass through the underpass everyday, said Lambert, and assuming that each driver is not alone, a quarter of a million people will view this mural as they drive ever year.
The mural sketches displayed at the community meeting showed blues and green waves flowing across the top of the underpass with the word “Temescal” in large block letters on the left side. The six pillars, which support the freeway, each had flowing waves streaming down them. Each pillar also featured a colorful vibrant picture: children, a family canoeing down a stream, merchants and the Temescal Creek with frogs and leaves. On the other side of the underpass, at the top, the same waves flowed with “Temescal Celebrates Children” written on the left side.
Leon said the abstract waves depict the flow of cars and people that travel through the underpass. “The metaphor is the flow of life,” Leon said.
Many Oaklanders at the meeting said the mural’s waves were very visually appealing, colorful and abstract, but some were confused by the phrase “Temescal Celebrates Children.” After explaining the process of how the mural plan began and the idea behind the design, people in the audience were asked to voice their comments and feedback of the mural.
“Temescal celebrates children? I never knew that,” said Brian Brooks, 37, a Temescal resident.
“Children will call the BS on that. Like, this isn’t Disneyland,’ said Emily Wick, 31, another Temescal resident.
Some residents at the meeting said they understand the importance of the children’s hospital, but don’t believe that the hospital is what solely represents Temescal — there are also blocks of restaurants, bars, boutiques, and coffee shops.
“I understand that Children’s wants a nod, but other merchants aren’t noticed,” said resident Jean Parker, who wanted to include the history of Temescal in the mural.
But Gary Turchin, the director of community relations at Children’s Hospital Oakland, said the hospital staff and administration had not previously seen the plan for the mural.
The residents at the meeting also said they would prefer the mural to be more abstract — as the waves motif is — and perhaps portray objects that depict children’s activities rather than images of people. “Show it, don’t say it,” said one woman speaking during the public comments section of the meeting.
After the meeting, the board and Leon will work to incorporate some the community’s ideas that they feel will work best into the next design of the mural. BART is doing construction at the 52nd Street underpass to resize the columns on the street, which Lambert said he believes will be completed in March. Once BART completes construction, Leon can begin painting; the board hopes the mural will be finished in July 2010.
Ultimately, the board hopes to have murals painted on other underpasses in the Temescal area that all connect to the theme of the project, but have decided to tackle different areas one at a time. Phase one: the east side of the 52nd Street underpass. Phase two: the west fascia of the 52nd Street underpass.
Leon said he was impressed by the community feedback at meeting and it wasn’t difficult to hear his art being critiqued. “It was to be expected,” he said.
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