I wrote a letter to Palo Alto Weekly about how we as a community (town and not gown) should do something to honor the legacy of painter and teacher (and father, and husband and neighbor) Nathan Oliveira, 1928-2010. At the Palo Alto Public Arts Commission meeting last night, staff liason Elise DeMarzo announced that Gail Price and City Council will issue a proclamation on point at their May 7 public meeting. Meanwiles I have been floating the idea that we as a community, perhaps a public-private enterprise, should buy 209 Hamilton Avenue and make it a museum and art studios.
Nathan worked there for several years in the 1970s, according to his friend and colleague Paula Kirkeby of Smith Andersen editions.
Here is the draft of the letter I wrote to Palo Alto Weekly, which was timed to respond to the article Karla Kane wrote about public art:
I appreciated the excellent article on public art by Karla Kane and the accompanying photo essay by Veronica Weber depicting or referencing some twenty examples of art in our midst. The fact that you included the “Kura” carving at Stanford’s New Guinea folk installation – which for a second I did confuse with the City’s former holding “Foreign Friends” (from Sweden) – triggers me to suggest two more public arts ideas for our community to imagine and consider:
1) I think Palo Alto should do something substantial and ambitious to honor the passing of Nathan Oliveira (1928-2010) and his legacy here in town. Although the university (where Oliveira taught for more than 30 years) is said to be planning an impressive legacy project, we as a public community should do something to match. There is precedent in the form of the great painter’s in-town history: for example, Oliveira was honored with an Avenidas Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. He lent his work for a comprehensive show at the Palo Alto Art Center in 2008. Perhaps most significantly, a large body of his earlier work was created at his downtown studio at the corner of Hamilton and Emerson. We should do something larger and more permanent than the loan of his sculptural piece in the courtyard of 1313 Newell.
2) Speaking of “Foreign Friends”, in honor of our new mayor Sid Espinosa I think we should ask our siblings in our Sister City of Linkoping to try again – the first installation was attacked by vandals (several times) and ultimately removed from the city art collection. Although Espinosa has a Latino surname, he has also spoken publicly about his family’s Scandinavian heritage.
We budget about $25,000 of our $147 million dollar municipal budget for the Public Arts Commission, a tiny fraction. We voted in recent years to have developers set aside “one percent for arts” for civic capital projects –for example, the Bruce Beasley sculpture at the renovated Mitchell Park complex constitutes roughly $250,000 of a $25 million project. But to me the overall impact of our community arts efforts seem much greater. We are getting a lot of bang for our art buck. Although many question the value of the arts in recessionary times, our local arts are part of what makes us unique, what makes Palo Alto Palo Alto, what makes us human even. Even when we disagree about the merits or meaning of individual pieces (or the program as a whole), the debate itself is part of the commons, what makes us a community, what makes us us.
Although we are on a budget, there may be considerable and propitious public-private, project-specific, and philanthropic support to honor Oliveira and Espinosa via the arts.
edit to add (and thanks to “State of Grace” blogger Grace Davis for converting me from a self-commenter to the more user friendly “edit to adder”): At the Earth Day Bill Bliss trailhead biker dedication of a work by James Moore ceremony today,
Mayor Sid Espinosa was buzzing not about his visit with Obama the day before but a film he saw at Cubberley by middle school students “The Badger Brothers” who made a spoof on the recent James Franco film, about a boy who gets his arm stuck in a recycling bin for “127 Minutes.”
edit to add, August 14: Joe Oliveira sent notice of a Nathan Oliveira Memorial art show at Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco, starting Sept. 8 and seeming to feature 35 works.