21 Aug 2014
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Lively Arts 'pARTy' at El Cerrito City Hall

The spotlight was on the arts Friday night as the City of El Cerrito and the Arts and Culture Commission hosted a party with face-painting, costume photos, music, food and a preview of the abstract copper sculptures to be hung on streetlight poles.

El Cerrito City Hall became a party scene Friday night as the city celebrated the local arts and the soon-to-installed big public art project – a dozen abstract copper sculptures to be suspended on streetlight poles along San Pablo Avenue.

Kids gravitated to the face-painting station in the lobby and the costume dress-up area in the council chambers where they could have their photos taken. 

A quartet performed in the foyer to the City Council chambers, and the food and drink options made the main lobby service counter a popular gathering spot. Upstairs, guests could view the current exhibit in the City Hall Gallery Space – nature-inspired wall sculptures by Shelley Gardner.

A brief program was held outdoors to welcome the first of the 12 abstract copper sculptures planned for streetlight poles along San Pablo Avenue. The sculpture – by Berkeley artists Jonathan Russell and Saori Ide – was installed on a streetlight pole in front of City Hall Thursday as a special preview for the arts party Friday.

""We're so fortunate to have this great public piece in El Cerrito," said City Councilwoman Rebecca Benassini, the council liaison to the city's Arts and Culture Commission, the body that oversaw the project and finally approved it in March.

Mayor Bill Jones told the assembled guests that the artwork adds to the city's plan to make El Cerrito's stretch of San Pablo Avenue a destination that distinguishes the city.

"I don't think you're going to find this type of art on a pole on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, Oakland, San Pablo or Albany," Jones said.

Also taking the microphone was Russell as Ide, his wife, joined him.

"Public art is extremely difficult," Russell said. "Art by consensus is so –," he continued. "Really don't do it," he added, to laughs from the audience.

The project, for which the artists received a $100,000 commission through an open competition, evolved from its first incarnation through a long and sometimes rocky approval process.

Despite the difficulties, he said, the final result is one that the artists are delighted by. "We're really quite happy with it," he said.

"I have to say we deal with a lot of cities for public art..., and El Cerrito ... is by far the best experience we've had," he said.

He offered special appreciation to the arts commission and to Assistant City Manager Karen Pinkos and Community Outreach Specialist Suzanne Iarla, each of whom served as the staff liaison to the commission while the project was under review. 

The installation of the first sculpture outside City Hall for the "pARTy" was temporary. Russell said he plans to take it down Monday or Tuesday for some finishing work. The permanent installation of all 12 sculptures is expected to be completed early next year, Iarla said.

The Friday night event, hosted by the city and the arts commission, was timed to commemorate National Arts and Humanities Month.

The city has celebrated arts month in various ways over the years. Last year featured a "Do-It-Yourself Arts Fair" at the Community Center, and the year before saw a "Celebration of the Arts" at City Hall with performances and demonstrations.

Patch offers special thanks to Luis Zavala of Luis Zavala Photography for several of the accompanying photographs. Zavala is also a member of the city's Arts and Culture Commission.

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