Hillcrest and Mission Valley are getting new fire stations, but neither community will get the public art that typically comes with those type of city projects.

The city of San Diego has a policy requiring 2 percent of the cost of city construction projects like fire stations, libraries, pump stations, lifeguard stations and water facilities to be spent on public art. But back in 2011, former Mayor Jerry Sanders temporarily suspended the public art policy, and San Diegans are only just now seeing the effects of that decision.

Some folks feel like they’re getting the shaft.

“Where the new Hillcrest fire station is going is an important area,” said Benjamin Nicholls, the executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association, a neighborhood improvement group. “It’s sort of a no man’s land over there, so it needs the art. It’s extremely frustrating that the city left it out.”

Sanders suspended the city’s public art policy for roughly 13 months to prevent cuts to public safety and other city services deemed more critical than art. At the time, major budget cuts were mandated for firefighters, who took to TV news to ask why they had to suffer cuts while millions of public dollars paid for art at future fire stations.

Public artist Paul Hobson, whose artwork adorns Fire Station 31 in Del Cerro, said he gets why Sanders suspended the program, but now that the budget is better, the city should consider adding the 2 percent requirement back to the fire stations in Hillcrest and Mission Valley.

“Public art can help identify the community and reflect the people in it by articulating their values,” Hobson said. “Art can be a mirror.”

Ideally, an artist is selected before the design of a new facility begins, Hobson said, that way the art can be site-specific and fully integrated into the building. But he said a good artist could still come up with something after the project’s already been designed.

“It’s not too late to find a place somewhere and put a piece of art there,” he said. “It’s been done before.”

There are seven city construction projects that won’t have art included in them because of Sanders’ 13-month suspension of the city’s public art policy.

The executive director for the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture, which oversees the public art program, says art could be added to both fire stations and to the other projects, but there aren’t any specific plans to do so.

The commission would be responsible for taking a leadership role in getting art back in to the seven artless projects.

Nicholls says if the commission won’t do it, he thinks once Hillcrest’s business community and other residents realize there isn’t art included in their new fire station, they’ll want to help. He said business and commercial property owners near the fire station might be willing to raise money, especially for a piece of public art that celebrates the local LGBT community, or educates the public about LGBT history.

“Hillcrest people are always thinking about ways to decorate and better the community, so this might prompt people to do that,” he said.

Kinsee Morlan

Kinsee Morlan was formerly the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture...

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