Public Art Redux

The upcoming election—by which we Redwood City residents will elect four City Council Members and three members of the Redwood City Elementary School District Board of Trustees, and by which we will make our collective opinion known on the Redwood City Elementary School District’s $193 million capital improvements bond measure—is our first that will take place entirely by mail (although there are one or two polling places for those who need or want to vote in person). The ballots will be mailed out on October 5, so watch for them in your mailbox shortly thereafter. Be sure to fill out your ballot, sign the envelope, and pop it back in the mail in time for it to receive a postmark of November 3 or earlier. As long-time readers of my blog know, I rarely take a stand on issues, preferring instead to present the facts as best I can determine them and letting you, the readers, come to your own conclusions. Thus, my choices in this election will remain my own; I merely urge you to do what you can to make an informed decision on the candidates and the issues, and then vote.

I last wrote about Redwood City’s public art scene back in February, in my post For Art’s Sake. I’m a big believer in using art—such as murals, statues, and the like—to give a city that little something extra that makes it truly noteworthy. I had to go to Livermore the other day, and as I was passing through Hayward I couldn’t help but notice all of the painted utility boxes (we have those!) and the murals painted on the sides of the railroad underpasses. This kind of art is not necessarily the kind that you stand in front of and study—although if you have the time, by all means do so!—but even so it can delight the viewer who catches a brief glimpse as they pass. Some public art really is meant for more leisurely study, of course, such as this wonderful mural made out of individual hand-painted tiles that I saw on the side of a building in Livermore:


Whether it is a larger project like the above, or a small project like a painted utility box, public art can have a real impact on how you feel about a city, and thus is something worth supporting.

Over the last week and a half I had the good fortune to spend time with two individuals who are very active in our local public arts scene. The first, Beth Mostovy, founded and continues to chair ARTS RWC; she is on the board of the Redwood City Parks and Arts Foundation, and was on the board of the Peninsula Arts Council for some 4-5 years. Along with Julie Goodenough she started and continues to run ART on the Square (which is sponsored by University Arts and the Redwood City Parks & Arts Foundation, among others). Mostovy sat down with me over a cup of tea at Cafe La Tartine and shared her history and thoughts on the public art projects going on in our city. Beth helped me get a better handle on some of the various organizations responsible for public art around Redwood City:

  • ARTS RWC is community organization that advocates for public art within Redwood City. It has been in existence for six years, and counts various City Council members and city employees as members, among others. Its goal is to advance Redwood City as a destination for the arts.
  • Peninsula Arts Council is a non-profit whose mission is to “advance the cultural arts in San Mateo County.” They focus on public art, arts in education, and the development of San Mateo County as a destination for the visual and performing arts.
  • Redwood City Civic Cultural Commission works on behalf of Redwood City’s City Council, supporting and enhancing cultural life in Redwood City. It does this by promoting events, arts, and related programs; by allocating grants to public art projects; by bringing groups together to support the arts; and by providing our various concert series, art contests, and public art.
  • Redwood City Parks & Arts Foundation is a non-profit who works with our Parks, Recreation, and Community Services department to “advocate, advance, and develop support for parks, recreational programming, community services, cultural activities, and the arts in Redwood City and surrounding unincorporated areas.”
  • Redwood City Improvement Association (RCIA) is an all-volunteer organization that aims to provide “special benefits or services over and beyond what is currently provided by the City of Redwood City.” Downtown property owner within the CBID (Community Benefits Improvement District) are assessed annually, supplying the funds that the RCIA uses to make our downtown more attractive by, among other things:
    • power-washing the sidewalks and picking up litter every day
    • providing valet parking services (which previously had been provided by the city)
    • running the “Magic Lantern 3D” show that is projected on the face of our historic courthouse (this show has been updated for the Fall; if you’ve seen it previously, this is an all-new show):
      1_IMG_4718Over the next year the RCIA hopes to commission public art within downtown and purchase new LED lights for the trees within downtown Redwood City.

I asked Beth Mostovy about our mural scene. I knew about the one behind Crouching Tiger Restaurant, of course, and knew that a mural was getting underway on the backside of Redwood City Underground Pub. What I didn’t realize, however, was that the murals would continue along Commercial Way (which is an alley that runs from Brewster Avenue to Perry Street, providing rear access to buildings along El Camino Real and Broadway), and will next cover the backsides of the Pickled Clothing and Revival Upscale Retail stores:


The idea is that people pulling into the Perry Street Parking lot, or the Caltrain lot opposite the Perry Street lot, rather than seeing the backs of a bunch of businesses, will instead see a set of beautiful murals. And as those murals will be visible from Caltrain, passengers—especially those on the west side of the southbound trains—will get an intriguing glimpse of the murals as their trains pull into (or blast through) the Redwood City Caltrain station.

From what I was told, the Commercial Way murals are just a start: art enthusiasts are looking with longing at blank walls throughout the city, imagining murals upon them. One wall that may be receiving a mural soon is the upper part of the east side of the Fox Theatre, which faces the Century Theatres:


Although challenging to paint, this particular location is particularly intriguing: from Theatre Way it is barely visible, but Century Theatres patrons who are looking out the upstairs windows find themselves looking straight at it.

A couple of days after talking with Beth I was fortunate to have Jason Newblanc, who goes by “Gadget,” join me on a walk around the city. Gadget has also been a long-standing proponent of public art, having served for six years on the Redwood City Civic Cultural Commission and being a longstanding board member of the Peninsula Arts Council. Jason and I met at Backyard Coffee; from there we walked down Commercial Way to check on the mural progress. We next looked in on North Plaza. Given its purpose as a gateway to our downtown, it seems appropriate that there be some sort of art here, but neither Beth nor Gadget were aware of any specific projects planned for the spot.

From North Plaza Gadget and I wandered over to the downtown storefront at the corner of Hamilton and Broadway, where our newest Starbucks will be making its home. For a short time, however, until Starbucks begins their renovations the space is being used as a small “pop-up” art gallery. Through October 10 they are open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, but you can get a feel for the exhibit at any time simply by walking by and peering in the windows. You can also look them up online, at

We next decided to look at a couple of the new painted utility boxes, and ended up visiting nearly all of the boxes in the downtown Redwood City area (I have yet to see the two that are over at Hoover School, and the two that are in Redwood Shores). I love these things—particularly, the wildly different designs. My personal favorite is on Whipple Avenue, next to the Chevron station:


At some point I’m sure the city or one of the art organizations will put together a map of the box locations along with something about each artist and their design, perhaps with a suggested path that will at least enable you to visit all of the downtown boxes. Until then, though, the locations are listed here.

After I parted ways with Gadget I elected to do a bit more wandering. I wound up at Jardin de Niños park, at the corner of Chestnut Street and Middlefield Road. This park has a rather beautiful dual-purpose work of art: a gorgeous tiled combination bench/fountain. There were no kids when I dropped by, so I was able to closely examine the bench and play with the fountain mechanism.


When the fountain is running, water streams from the floral center and cascades into a flower-shaped bowl. However, if you look closely at the design on the back of the fountain, you’ll see that there are two birds that have spouts in their beaks. These don’t operate until you press a large chrome button in the base of the fountain, however: press the button (which is located on the bench face to the left of the central basin) with your foot and you will be treated with a minute or so worth of water spurting from the two bird’s beaks. I was delighted to discover this mechanism, and I imagine that parents have a great time activating it for their kids.

Art that you can interact with in this way has a definite appeal to my engineer’s brain. Although I don’t consider myself an artist, I was pleased to see that Redwood City has an upcoming art project at which we Redwood City residents can participate. The city has begun promoting the Haramabee Project (Harambee means “Lets pull together” in Swahili); over the course of three days (October 16, 17, and 18) Pittsburgh-based artist Michael Koliner will have both kids and adults stomping in the mud—mud that will be used to create “cob-adobe” benches in three of our parks. It looks like it will be a great deal of fun (I plan to be there!) and the resulting benches will certainly benefit our parks. See the project brochure for specific dates, times, and locations.

If you aren’t excited about stomping in mud, but still want to help support our public art scene, here’s an opportunity: the RCIA is hoping to scatter a set of “shadow art stencils” around our downtown. They are asking for donations to support the project; see a photo of one of the stencils and make a donation here.

Redwood City’s public arts scene is gathering steam, thanks both to the various organizations who support public art and to our city leadership who clearly seem to understand the value of public art. Keep your eyes open as you move throughout Redwood City; you’ll never know where the next bit of art might pop up next!

Corrections: After this blog post was published Beth Mostovy got in touch to point out a couple of inaccuracies. I have corrected them in the above article, but for the record the article originally stated that she was still on the Peninsula Arts Council board (she has not been for a few years). As well, ARTS RWC did not start ART on the Square, although Beth herself did, along with Julie Goodenough. RCIA is not a sponsor of ART on the Square. Finally, I mistook ARTS RWC’s goal for its mission. I regret these errors, which are entirely mine.

I’ve previously mentioned that Redwood City is going to be getting new parking meters in the downtown area. The city is currently experimenting with a couple of different meter types from two separate companies, and needs us to try them out and provide feedback. Sixteen parking spaces on the west side of Main Street, between Stambaugh and Middlefield Road, are controlled by new multi-space pay stations. You will also find new multi-space pay stations and some single-space meters on both sides of Bradford between Warren and Winslow. Between now and the end of this year, after using the new equipment the city requests that we fill out a very brief survey giving our opinions of the experience. This is a great chance to make your voice heard and influence the selection of the equipment that we will one day soon be using to pay for downtown parking. You’ll find the survey here:

5 thoughts on “Public Art Redux

  1. Pingback: Ask And Ye Shall Receive | Walking Redwood City

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  3. .Thanks as always, Greg. For years I’ve thought a great site for a mural is the back wall of the library — for all the folks whizzing by on Caltrain. I’ll look for contact info for Beth Mostovy so I can suggest it to her..

  4. While I don’t live in Redwood City, I still follow Greg’s blog. I spent years in the USAF and because I was rarely near a voting booth I didn’t vote. This was partially because I didn’t have access to information on the ballot issues, but also because of the perception that Absentee ballots are always the last to be counted. Since retirement I never fail to vote. Even if its an “off year” when the outcome doesn’t seem to matter. Voting is our Right. But being an informed voter is out Responsibility.

    Read up, become informed, and get out and vote. The Outcome always matters.

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