UCSF launches public arts program at Mission Bay campus

Corinna Kaarlela on June 03, 2003

The University of California, San Francisco has launched a public arts program at Mission Bay, where life at the new research and teaching campus will be enhanced by striking examples of artistic expression.

A scientist who is also an ardent supporter of the arts and a strong advocate of public artworks at UCSF’s other sites, Chancellor J. Michael Bishop is committed to continue that effort at the university’s newest campus at Mission Bay. Like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ohio State University and many universities in California and across the country that have budgeted for artworks, UCSF has pledged funds for art at the Mission Bay campus equal to 1 percent of Phase 1 construction costs.  The goal is to continue the program during future construction phases.

“Our purpose is to create an environment that will be a credit and benefit to the entire community—a stimulating and pleasant place to work and visit—a permanent legacy to the city,” said Chancellor Bishop.
UCSF is voluntarily honoring a San Francisco ordinance that, in fact, requires 2 percent of construction costs for all public projects to be spent on art. The UC system is exempt from local authority by virtue of its governance structure as outlined in the state constitution, and although UCSF is only budgeting 1 percent, it does so in the spirit of making art accessible to a major new San Francisco neighborhood, according to Assistant Chancellor Susan Montrose.

Considering that the campus will eventually encompass 43 acres and 2.65 million-gross-square-feet of space for life sciences research, teaching and support, the potential for public art at Mission Bay over its 20-year development is both promising and unprecedented at UCSF.

Team of Experts

As a health sciences campus, UCSF lacks a visual arts department with its own faculty.  In May 2000, Bishop appointed a team of experts to guide the art program at Mission Bay. Comprising the Mission Bay Art Advisory Board are San Francisco art collector Steven H. Oliver, chairman and a member of the board of trustees of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) since 1989; Mary Livingstone Beebe, director of the Stuart Collection at UC San Diego; Oakland-born Neal Benezra, director of SFMOMA; and Sandra Ann Percival, executive director of the Public Art Development Trust in London.

This group advises the chancellor and the Mission Bay Art Committee, which is composed of faculty, staff and students, and chaired by Sam Barondes, MD, UCSF professor of psychiatry.

According to Oliver, UCSF has a “rare opportunity to be able to integrate art and architecture at the very inception of this new campus. To be able to commission works specific to this campus is indeed a historic opportunity.”
“The Mission Bay art program is a real challenge,” Beebe said. “The Mission Bay Art Advisory Committee sees its charge from the Chancellor—its mission—as recruiting artists of equal caliber to UCSF scientists and scholars and, similarly, to produce provocative, cutting-edge and sometimes useful work. We hope it will be an ongoing program to provide food for thought and conversation, and, of course, pleasure—for most, if not all.”

“We hope that the art at Mission Bay will be both distinctive and enduring,” added Barondes, who has been involved with the general campus art program for more than a decade. “We are grateful to the board for its guidance.”

Plans Underway

The first work, a dramatic chandelier, consisting of five red and orange 34-foot-long pendants, was designed by internationally known California artist Jim Isermann. It was installed recently in the atrium of UCSF Genentech Hall, the first building at Mission Bay to open to faculty and staff in January 2003.

In addition, two more works have been commissioned for integration with the buildings and landscape of the Mission Bay campus.

Roy McMakin, a graduate of UC San Diego’s art department who created the furniture for the Museum of the Getty Center in 1998, is now working on an extensive and varied array of seating that he will carefully place around the perimeter of the 3.2-acre green known as the Koret Quad. He is using assorted materials, including stone, wood, bronze and fiberglass, to fashion the furniture and other fixtures for the landscaped park-like area that is larger than San Francisco’s Union Square.

German sculptor Stephan Balkenhol, an internationally recognized artist whose work involves figurative elements in architectural contexts, often carved in wood at a large scale, will create a sculpture to enliven the 80-foot atrium space of the Campus Community Center, targeted for occupancy to begin in October 2004. Balkenhol will carve a set of four figures, each facing a different direction, from the trunk of a single large tree. Representing the diversity at UCSF, the figures will stand 8- to 10-feet tall and will greet visitors to the four-story social and recreational campus community center, designed by award-winning architect Ricardo Legorreta.

Goals for Art
While the initial strategy is to commission works of art that will be permanent and site-specific, the goal of the Mission Bay campus art program also is to purchase existing works and to mount exhibitions of loaned art, according to Assistant Chancellor Montrose, a member of the art planning committee and liaison to the advisory board.
Funds have been set aside for acquiring artwork when more buildings are completed and appropriate exhibition space can be identified. In the future, the campus may also arrange to borrow works from local museums, galleries and other institutions as it currently does at its other locations.
For each project commissioned, the artists were first invited to visit Mission Bay and asked to select a site for which they wanted to submit a proposal.  “We see artists of all disciplines working in different types of media and will ultimately be able to see the depth and breadth of what great contemporary artists can do,” said Oliver, a 1964 UC Berkeley graduate.

“In this city, where frankly there is a dearth of great public art, this is a historic opportunity to change that. I give the Chancellor credit for his vision and leadership for wanting UCSF to stand up and be counted as presenting fine art to the public,” he added.

The Mission Bay Art Committee also has commissioned Bay Area photographer Mark Citret, who specializes in architectural photography, to capture the construction of the Mission Bay campus as a historical record and to create a collection of exhibition photographs for display to the campus community.

Over the past two decades, Citret has been instructed and inspired by photographers such as the late Ansel Adams, with whom he studied in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Citret, who earned his BA and MA from San Francisco State University, began shooting at the birth of the Mission Bay campus in 1999.

A sampling of Citret’s photographs of Mission Bay and the Isermann chandelier can be viewed on the UCSF Mission Bay website at http://pub.ucsf.edu/missionbay.
For more information about art at UCSF, see UCSF Today at www.ucsf.edu/today and use the search button with the keyword “art.”

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