Here’s one of those things I never knew much about until I started covering arts.

The University of California, San Diego, has been assembling an art collection for 30 years — public sculptures by some of the world’s leading artists. The collection is paid for with private donations and the pieces are commissioned for the exact spots where they’ll go. (Looking for a scavenger hunt this weekend? Here’s a map of the 17 sites.)

The Stuart Collection’s director, Mary Beebe, was honored with a national award this week for her work in public art as part of the national Americans for the Arts convention happening in San Diego.

For our weekly TV segment this week, our friends at NBC San Diego and I met Beebe for a chat by the collection’s gigantic bear-made-from-rocks by artist Tim Hawkinson:

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Beebe said the effort fits in well with the university’s overall pursuit of notable talent.

“We’re working with artists who are the leading artists of our times,” she said. “Just like every department at the university likes to have the leading people, so do we. We’re an outdoor museum in a way.”

She said she welcomes controversy over the chosen pieces when it arises.

“We don’t want to do boring art; we don’t want to do mediocre art,” Beebe said. “We want to do things that are new, inventive, thoughtful.”

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Her comment on controversy struck me as having interesting timing. A recently installed mosaic mural honoring Latino culture and history on campus was done outside of the Stuart Collection purview, the first such permanent piece installed outside of the collection since it began in the early 1980s.

A literature professor who helped organize the mural, Jorge Mariscal, took a dig at the Stuart Collection when that piece was unveiled a few weeks ago. “If they want to have their gallery of high art, that’s fine, but leave a little space for people who don’t know what’s hip in New York and Paris,” he told the Union-Tribune.

The next piece in the university’s collection is a house that will be built askew on the side of one of the engineering buildings. Here’s a preview of that piece, by artist Do Ho Suh:

What do you think about the proposals for that new piece? Do you have a favorite sculpture in the Stuart Collection? Leave a comment here or on our Facebook.

I am the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at or 619.325.0531. Or you can keep up with me on Twitter @kellyrbennett or on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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