The BART plaza in downtown Berkeley has been under construction since the fall of 2016, but it will reopen on Oct. 18 with great fanfare and provide an outdoor experience that Berkeley residents have never seen before, at least in their city.
The new plaza will have white pavers made to resemble granite, glass awnings over the BART entrances that will be illuminated at night to resemble sculptures, artworks by prominent artists, and an art-sound installation that will play through eight sound and light poles made by Berkeley’s Meyer Sound.
In addition, there will be outdoor café tables and chairs for the public to use on the plaza, increased sidewalk seating at the restaurants along that stretch of Shattuck Avenue (between Center Street and Allston Way), state-of-the-art lighting, and regular live music performances, among other programming. Two nonprofit food vendors, the Ecology Center’s Berkeley Farm Stand, and 1951 Coffee Kiosk, from Berkeley’s 1951 Coffee) will be selling wares.
A major goal of the renovation — which was completed more than a year late — is to create a “public space where commuters and residents want to linger, whether to grab a coffee and pastry, beer or slice of pizza, listen to music on the Berkeley LIVE! stage or one-of-a-kind soundscapes, or engage with an Ambassador at the new Welcome Kiosk,” according to a press release put out by the city. (Downtown’s independently contracted ambassadors monitor the area, cleaning, and offering hospitality and outreach to the local community.)
“We are delighted to finally have this beautiful new transit portal and town square open in the heart of our great city,” Mayor Jesse Arreguín said in the press release.
The opening celebration will kick off at 4 p.m. on Thursday with Arreguín, BART Board Director Rebecca Saltzman and other local dignitaries cutting the ribbon across the steel and glass canopy that forms the main entrance to BART, on Shattuck Avenue and Center Street. After that, the Berkeley Symphony will emerge up the steps from the station to perform Joan Tower’s “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman,” while Michael Christian’s 14-foot “Home” globe sculpture is unveiled in the plaza. Then Chris Brown’s “Flow in Place” sound art installation, a combination of field recordings of nature, street sounds collected around the world, and music, will be switched on. Local merchants will serve food until 8 p.m. and there will be performances on the new stage at the south end of the plaza, the Berkeley LIVE! stage.
The final cost for the new Berkeley Plaza was $13 million, according to the city. The contractor who won the BART bid said it could do the improvement to the station and the plaza for $7.8 million, although the price tag went up with some change orders. However, in December 2017, once the project was significantly delayed, BART began assessing USS Cal Builders, a company based in Stanton, CA, $3,545 in daily liquidated damages, according to records BART released to Berkeleyside after a public records request.
The bulk of the funds came from various government sources, including Measure F and state Proposition 1B.
Some of the funds also came from the Arts Commission as well as Berkeley’s 1.5% for Public Art from city-funded construction, according to Jennifer Lovvorn, the chief cultural affairs officer for the Civic Arts Program. When the city takes out bonds for a capital project, such as the construction of the new Center Street garage, it must set aside 1.5% of the capital construction project for art.
Public art will have a significant presence in the BART plaza. The intent is to have artists display their work or have their sound installations played on a rotating basis.
For the first year, there will be a large-scale sculpture called “Home” by Berkeley-based artist Michael Christian in the middle of the plaza. “Home resembles an oversized desktop globe … made of multiple layers of steel with cutout imagery of street maps from around the world,” according to the press release. “At night, light from within the piece casts shadows of these maps on the surrounding plaza. At any time of day, the artwork evokes the interconnectedness of all people and places around the world.”
Christian originally made the sculpture for Burning Man and it has been displayed elsewhere as well.
For two months, Chris Brown’s “Flow in Place,” a sound art installation, will play through eight speakers. The field recordings will flow sequentially through the speakers, sometimes starting at the north end of the plaza and sometimes the south end, said Lovvorn.
Brown’s installation is the first in a series of ten planned sound art installations. The other artist/composers who will have their sound art exhibited include Gregory Robinson; Spiritual Technologies; Ed Campion; Maggi Payne; Robert Crouch & Yann Novak; Jim McKee; Thea Farhadian & Dean Santomieri; Danny Clay; and Margaret Noble.
“Berkeley and the East Bay are home to a thriving electronic arts scene and the new downtown Berkeley BART plaza has been built with a sound system infrastructure to give the City of Berkeley a unique opportunity to present this exciting art form. This one-of-a-kind multi-channel audio environment will engage the public in inspiring and provocative ways,” Berkeley Civic Arts Commission Chair Kim Anno said in a statement.
Local performers will also play on the Berkeley Live! Stage. Berkeley-based Taylor Street Productions will manage the dozen or so monthly performances. Artists can apply to play there, and the selection will be guided by “equity, quality, community and frequency,” according to a city press release. There will be frequent lunchtime concerts as well as yoga classes, too.
“I’m thrilled that the new BART plaza will offer so many opportunities for residents to experience a wide range of art and enjoy free performances in our downtown,” said Arreguín. “This is a truly one-of-a-kind venue with a state-of-the-art sound and lighting.”
There will also be a new kiosk by Center Street with real-time information about when BART trains are arriving, among other kiosks with different information.
This story was updated to clarify where the funds for the renovation came from.
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