By Meghann M. Cuniff, Special to the Independent
Apologizing for what he called “probably a misunderstanding,” artist Marc Fornes presented to the City Council Tuesday a revised version of his sculpture for the Village Entrance Project in response to widespread community criticism.
The proposal presented to the city last month was “just a concept,” Fornes said. The revised plan also is not final, and Fornes said Tuesday he’s open to input as he continues working to make the sculpture everything from a place where children to explore to a quiet place to read a book.
“It’s not just a decoration. It’s not just an object on the side of a road.” Fornes said. “It’s the sort of piece that ought to be for everyone and that can become part of the heritage of the city.”
The City Council voted 5-0 to allow Fornes to continue working on the project. The Council also allotted $15,000 for staking, a public model and what Mayor Bob Whalen described as “some additional compensation for the artist.”
The Arts Commission approved the concept on Monday but is allowing Fornes to continue revising it, Siân Poeschl, the city’s cultural arts manager, told the Council.
“A project like this should have a lot of conversation about it, and it has been helpful,” Poeschl said.
Councilman Peter Blake emphasized, “We’re not anywhere near the actual artwork.”
Blake apologized to Fornes “that [he] had to go through this.” He suggested the city scrap the project and plant a tree instead.
“In 25 years of being in the art business, I have never seen something like this before,” Blake said, referring to widespread criticism that he said provided “no clarity” and ignored the tentative nature of the proposal.
“Frankly, I don’t know how you would ever come back,” Blake told Fornes. “I don’t know how I would ever recommend that anyone come back to this town and put a sculpture there.”
Blake’s comments followed 90 minutes of comments from Laguna Beach residents who largely opposed the project, including complaints about the size, location and style.
Laguna Beach resident Wendy Offield, said she loves the art “but not in that location.”
“I think it’s interesting to have a mix of artwork in the town, but I think – 100 percent – that’s not a park…It’s an area that people drive by,” Offield said. “I think there’s another location for it.”
Darlene Campbell, an adjunct instructor at the Laguna College of Art and Design, called the project “simply ill-suited for the city’s village entrance.”
But, Campbell said “just because we don’t necessarily support this project, it does not mean that we’re only interested in whales and dolphins.”
However, Jonathan Burke, president of Laguna College of Art and Design, said he supports the project, which he said shows an “aesthetic connection” to the nearby Festival of Arts.
Fornes’ new plan preserves existing landscaping, trees, pathways and bench, and the sculpture is smaller. It also “connects more fully with the natural and built setting, while still continuing to lean forward in a most unique and artistic way,” Arts Commission Chair Adam Schwerner told the Council on Tuesday.
“The Commission knows that it could have come before you tonight with a proposed sculpture of otters frolicking among a kelp forest, or benches with natural themes, and that such a proposal likely would not have engendered critical comments,” Schwerner said.
“We believe, though, that we already have that type of work in our public art collection, and that here, at the Village Entrance, there’s an opportunity to look towards today and our future rather than only looking to our past.”
But city leaders still appeared uncomfortable with the plan, with Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow emphasizing he doesn’t want the area to become a gathering place.
“I want art consistent with that,” he said.
Councilwoman Toni Iseman suggested considering a different location.
“We have a couple more spectacular sites that might inspire you, so I hope that you might be open to that,” Iseman told Fornes.