Mural proposal by masako miki
Masako Miki’s “Contemplating the Universe,” an aquamarine and indigo tile mural that celebrates diversity by merging elements of Japanese and Ohlone folklore, was selected by the Civic Arts Commission following a significant public input process. Courtesy: City of Berkeley

The Berkeley Civic Arts Commission has chosen a new mural for Aquatic Park but, after receiving significant public input, has decided to reject all four sculptures proposed. 

Masako Miki’s watercolor mural, “Contemplating the Universe,” an aquamarine and indigo tile artwork that celebrates diversity by merging elements of Japanese and Ohlone folklore, will be installed at the park by fall 2024. The budget for the mural, including artist fee, design, transportation and installation, is $70,000.

But at Wednesday’s meeting, the civic arts commission unanimously decided to not select any sculpture, following the recommendation of the project’s five-person selection panel and citing lukewarm feedback from respondents. 

More than 500 people — the most the city has ever heard from about a public art proposal and roughly three times more than the usual amount — weighed in on the sculpture and mural proposals through an online survey and public comment. 

Respondents raised concerns about each of the four sculpture proposals. 

Clockwise from top left, the four rejected sculpture proposals: a work from Forma Studios’ “Pageant of Land and Sea,” which honors the park’s history; Walter Kitundu’s cinema-inspired “Depth of Field,” which encourages park-goers to look out at the water as if it were a piece of artwork; John Roloff’s minimalist “Reflection Ship,” meant to suggest a reflected apparition or mirage of a ship; and Jean Shin’s “Shell Songs,” which depicts three giant abalone shells with excerpts of historical protest songs inscribed on them. Courtesy: City of Berkeley

Friends of Five Creeks president Susan Schwartz wrote a letter urging the commission to carefully consider whether the proposals “highlight [the] actual ecology of these human-made lagoons, or our myths and wishes.” 

One proposal called for three giant abalone shells, created from recycled aluminum, and Schwartz noted that the mollusks are creatures of the open Pacific Coast, not artificial lagoons like Aquatic Park. And another proposal for a minimalist fantasy ship, she wrote, would require dense evergreens on the west shore — where snowy egrets roost — to be pruned back. 

The city plans to resume its search for a sculpture — $450,000 is budgeted for the project — but did not share details about a timeline. 

“The Civic Arts Commission is committed to commissioning the very best work, and unfortunately these proposals didn’t quite make it to that level,” Jen Lovvorn, the city’s chief cultural affairs officer, wrote in an email. “This would have been (and hopefully still will be) the biggest budget public art project that the City of Berkeley has ever done and there was a lot of pressure on the panel to get it right.” 

“We will develop a new plan for the sculpture project,” Lovvorn wrote. “We have learned a lot through this process, we are always looking to improve, and we have been discussing how a future process might look.”

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Iris Kwok covers the environment for Berkeleyside through a partnership with Report for America. A former music journalist, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, San Francisco Examiner...