Artist Deborah O’Grady created panels with images of roses and poetry in Berkeley’s downtown BART station. Photo: courtesy Deborah O’Grady
Artist Deborah O’Grady created panels with images of roses and poetry in Berkeley’s downtown BART station. Photo: courtesy Deborah O’Grady

By Hannah Long

A new art piece featuring garden-inspired photography has been installed in the windows of the Downtown Berkeley BART station entrance. The project, called the Rose Pavilion, was unveiled on Monday afternoon and is part of the continuing efforts to revitalize Berkeley’s downtown area.

The piece features vertical panels of faux stained glass with images of roses and excerpts of poetry. Artist Deborah O’Grady explains that she was inspired by the architecture of the BART station. “I was asked if I could find a way to bring the garden into the center of the city. At first, I wasn’t sure, but as I walked around the downtown I was struck by the BART entrance pavilion. I decided to turn it into a rose arbor.”

The project is a collaboration between BART, UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, and the Downtown Berkeley Association. It is part of a larger exhibition at the Botanical Garden called “Natural Discourse,” which features work by 17 artists, poets, and scientists. “We came together to convey poetry and the beauty of the garden in a variety of mediums,” O’Grady says. For her, inspiration came in the form of roses: “Roses are a source of beauty and spirituality, a food, and a transmitter of light.”

As part of the sprucing up of downtown, a Welcome Kiosk now greets visitors at BART Plaza. Photo: Hannah Long

John Caner, Executive Director of the Downtown Berkeley Association, voiced his enthusiasm for the project at Monday’s unveiling: “We are very proud of the downtown’s art district, and we would really like to see an increased amount of visual art. This project is about the beautification of the culturally rich and diverse downtown.”

The installation is one of a series of projects designed to clean up the downtown area; others include landscaping, graffiti removal, and painting. Caner hopes the Rose Pavilion installation will increase business in Berkeley by attracting tourists to the area: “We hope that this amazing installation becomes a must-see destination within the BART system.”

As part of the drive to attract more visitors, Visit Berkeley, the city’s tourism information center and film production office recently opened a more visible storefront suite at its location at 2030 Addison.

New plants around the BART Plaza. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

BART Plaza has been a particular focus for the efforts to rejuvenate downtown which were kickstarted after the area became a property-based improvement district last year. Hospitality ambassadors and the police have been working to help homeless people and transients who have historically tended to congregate there, new seating and planters have been installed, the area has been wifi-enabled and is being kept clean as part of the $1.2 million “Big Splash” project. The DBA also recently erected a Welcome Kiosk on the downtown Plaza designed to be a first port of call for visitors arriving in the city via downtown; a Musicians’ Corner was launched this week; and there are proposals to install “Piazza” canopy lighting and café seating.

While many Berkeleyans will doubtless admire O’Grady’s artistic skill, at least one local resident at Monday’s unveiling questioned the city’s clean-up plan. Richard Santos, who works in downtown Berkeley, said: “There is so much need here in Berkeley. The problems are so large, and beautification is not enough.”

Downtown Berkeley ambassadors help, monitor homeless
Newly cleaned up downtown hopes to attract more retail [04.04.12]
After seven years Berkeley gets a new downtown plan [03.21.12]
Taller buildings, open spaces on cards for downtown Berkeley [03.09.12]
The big clean-up of downtown Berkeley begins [01.10.12]
How to improve downtown Berkeley: Have your say [10.19.11]
Downtown PBID passes overwhelmingly [06.29.11]

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