Public Art Program
Public Art Program
About the Palo Alto Public Art Program
The City of Palo Alto Public Art Program is committed to contributing to the intellectual, emotional, and creative life of the Palo Alto community by creating engaging art experiences and dynamic public spaces for Palo Alto residents and visitors. The Program operates in accordance with Chapter 2.26 of Palo Alto Municipal Code to provide opportunities for the placement of permanent and temporary site-specific public art projects in municipal projects across Palo Alto. Additionally, the Program oversees the implementation of the Ordinance requirement to incorporate public art in private development projects. The Public Art Commission (PAC) reviews and advises the Public Art Program on selection, placement, and care of public art throughout the City of Palo Alto. To get the latest news on the public art projects and activities taking place around Palo Alto, subscribe to our monthly e-news.
The Palo Alto Public Art Program promotes the highest caliber of artwork, commissioning memorable public artworks and experiences that stimulate discussion and thoughtful reflection, celebrating Palo Alto’s character and enhancing civic pride and sense of place.
Public art reflects Palo Alto’s people, diverse neighborhoods, the innovative and global character of its businesses and academic institutions, and the beauty of its natural environment.
About the Collection
The City collection of public art is comprised of approximately 100 permanently sited works and approximately 200 portable works of art in a diverse range of media. All works are commissioned and acquired through a public process. The portable collection features works by artists who have lived, worked, exhibited in, or been inspired by Palo Alto. The artworks are exhibited throughout City facilities and accessible to public on a daily basis. From the land art in the Baylands to the more figurative works, the collection of permanently sited and integrated artworks reflects the diverse interests and populations of Palo Alto. It includes emerging talent as well as well established, world renowned artists such as Fletcher Benton, Betty Gold, Gene Flores and Bruce Beasley. Each artwork is selected with the particular site and audience in mind. View the Public Art Collection Map to explore all locations of permanently-sited artworks in Palo Alto.
Currently on Display
Foraging Islands, an ecological art installation by Watershed Sculpture in Byxbee Park
Foraging Islands is an ecological sculpture that helps to re-establish foraging habitat for a variety of wildlife and prey species including invertebrates (earwigs, Jerusalem crickets, and other insects) and small mammals (field mice, voles, etc.) essential to the foraging activities of burrowing owls, white-tailed kites, and a variety of hawks.
In spring 2018, environmental artists Daniel McCormick and Mary O'Brien of Watershed Sculpture were selected as Artists-In-Residence for the Baylands Nature and Preserve. The goal of the residency is to create a public art overlay for the Baylands Comprehensive Conservation Plan (BCCP) and engage stakeholders and community members in the environmentally-focused temporary public art making process.
The artists engaged teams of volunteers to create the wildlife friendly temporary public art installation by weaving wood and natural materials harvested from the nearby areas to build the foraging habitat island. Over the course of 5 days in September, 65 volunteers of all ages and abilities worked a collective of 189 hours to build a 43-foot-long sculpture.
Internationally-Recognized Environmental Art Installation The Blue Trees Arrives in Palo Alto
The Public Art Program temporarily transforms eight magnolia trees in front of City Hall to a striking shade of cobalt blue as part of the environmental art installation, The Blue Trees. Artist Konstantin Dimopoulos worked in partnership with volunteers May 14-19 to color the bark blue on eight magnolia trees on King Plaza with an eco-friendly, non-toxic colorant. As an ephemeral artwork, the colored trees will eventually return to their natural state, but the the socially-driven art project is designed to spark lasting discussion about global deforestation. At an opening event on May 16th, Dimopoulos and representatives from both Canopy and City Urban Forestry discussed Palo Alto forestry and the importance of trees to our community. The installation is expected to remain on display for nine months to one year, depending on weather conditions.
Photo courtesy of Konstantin Dimopoulos.
Creative Crosswalks installed at the Louis Rd and Fielding Drive intersection in July 2018
As part of the City’s comprehensive Neighborhood Traffic Safety and Bicycle Boulevard Project which represents a significant step towards Palo Alto’s vision of a system of neighborhood bicycle and pedestrian routes, the Public Art Program worked on a long-term temporary pilot neighborhood beautification project for the Louis Road - Fielding Drive intersection.
Bay Area-based artist and graphic designer Damon Belanger, selected as the project artist by a selection panel comprised of art professionals, community members and stakeholders, created a design for four crosswalks titled Go With the Flow. The creative crosswalks will be incorporated into the newly constructed bike and pedestrian Louis / Fielding raised intersection.
Belanger’s whimsy design draws inspiration from the unique character of the local residential community, its history and diversity, and landmarks that make this neighborhood distinct, while enhancing safety and connectivity for people biking and walking. The intersection adjacent to Ohlone Elementary School acts as a main local roadway connecting pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers to Ohlone Elementary School, Palo Alto Buddhist Temple, Chabad Community Center, and other local community organizations.
As Belanger states in his proposal: “In Japanese and Chinese culture, Koi fish are symbolic of good fortune, prosperity and longevity. Because they are known to swim against strong currents, they are also associated with ambition and perseverance. Their strong connection to Japanese culture ties this artwork with the Buddhist temple down the street, and pedestrians and commuters alike will appreciate the many positive symbolic meanings”.
Art crosswalks were installed upon the completion of the Louis / Fielding intersection construction. The graphics were transferred onto a special durable thermoplastic material and installed onsite over the course of one day in late July, 2018.
Birdie by Joyce Hsu at the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course in February 2018
Joyce Hsu's Birdie is a playful, origami-inspired sculpture that looks out on the Baylands Natural Preserve, joyfully reminding visitors of the unique setting and important habitat for migratory birds. A humorous play on words, Birdie spreads its kinetic wings while balancing on a white tee. The Municipal Golf Course is scheduled to re-open in Spring 2018. Located along the golf course practice area, the artwork is currently accessible to the general public.
Code:ART reframed Palo Alto as laboratory for urban interventions, June 1-3, 2017
Murmur Wall by Future Cities Lab and Sensory Garden by Elaine Uang, Sandra Slater & Megan Stevens
June 1-3, 2017: With the support of an Art Works grant through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and generous support from local corporate sponsors, the City of Palo Alto launched the Code:ART festival in June 2017. At the epicenter of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto’s population of 65,000 more than doubles each day with tech commuters and Stanford University affiliates. The sometimes secretive nature of the work taking place within these companies has occasionally limits interaction between the residential community and tech employees, and leaves the downtown corridor largely void of evidence of the creative minds at work. Code:ART temporarily reframed the City as a laboratory for urban interventions and creative placemaking while engaging commuters, residents, students and visitors in dialogue to shape the future of the downtown corridor. For more about Code:ART, visit the Code:ART website.
Natural Causes - Palo Alto Weekly, September 28, 2018
Palo Azul? - Palo Alto Online, May 23, 2018
These Urban Art Pieces Invite Connection with People and Place - SFGate, June 14, 2017
Hot Summer Nights Bring Out Cool Art - Silicon Valley Business Journal, June 9, 2017
Artists Challenge Palo Alto to Imagine the Future at Code:ART Festival - The Mercury News, June 2, 2017
Art Gets Interactive: Downtown Palo Alto to Host Code:ART Public Art Festival - Palo Alto Weekly, May 26, 2017
City of Palo Alto to Host Upcoming Code:ART Festival - Verde Magazine, May 25, 2017
Palo Alto's Totally Tubular Art - Metro Silicon Valley, May 24, 2017
Art Gets Interactive - Palo Alto Online, May 24, 2017
Palo Alto: Art Installations to Disrupt, Activate Dead Spaces Downtown - The Mercury News, May 17, 2017
Truth Booth Launches "In Search of the Truth" - The Campanile, April 28, 2017
Truth Booth Visits Palo Alto, Challenges Public To Confess - ABC7 News, April 19, 2017
What happens in the Truth Booth in Palo Alto - The Mercury News, April 19, 2017
Step Into The Truth Booth in Palo Alto and Tell All Inside Two Minutes - KQED Arts, April 14, 2017
Palo Alto: ‘Truth Booth’ wants you to be candid - The Mercury News, April 6, 2017
'Chime', a community xylophone installed in King Plaza - Palo Alto Online, May 25, 2016
Code:ART coming to downtown Palo Alto next year - Palo Alto Online, May 24, 2016
Palo Alto unveils new sculpture by ‘Lord of the Rings’ artist - Palo Alto Pulse, October 29, 2015
Art in high places - Palo Alto Weekly, October 26, 2015
What’s the big idea in Palo Alto? Mobile Arts Platform offers a new way to share your voice - Palo Alto Pulse, September 22, 2015
Art in the moonlight - Palo Alto Weekly, September 18, 2015
A&E Digest: New public art approved - Palo Alto Weekly, July 27, 2015
Previously Installed Projects
Conversation by Narduli Studio launched in City Hall in January 2016
Susan Narduli's Conversation activates the renovated lobby, inviting visitor interaction and offering a unique artistic experience. The new media interactive artwork is always in flux, as posts and comments appear and change throughout the day. Because it is as much a collaborative tool as a display, it encourages participation. Conversation celebrates freedom of speech and expression. It is the voice of our community making up the ever-changing visual narrative.
Social Media Use Policy applies.
Confluence by Michael Szabo
Confluence is a 14-foot public water sculpture by Palo Alto native Michael Szabo installed on the newly renovated California Avenue near the Caltrain Station.
Confluence welcomes residents, shoppers, commuters and visitors to the new California Avenue. The artwork consists of several gently curved bronze elements with water cascading down the face of the sculpture and splashing on the ground. The dry pump system will recirculate the water to the fountain only losing a small amount to evaporation. Originally commissioned in 2011, the installation of Confluence was postponed to coincide with the California Avenue Streetscape Project.
Brilliance by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock
Brilliance is a site-specific public art installation by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock funded through the City of Palo Alto's Municipal Percent for Art Funds. The artwork was installed in the plaza between the renovated Rinconada Library and Palo Alto Art Center. The artists created a family of six sculptures surrounded by text collected from members of the Palo Alto community in a variety of languages reflecting Palo Alto's cultural diversity. Text on each artwork addresses physical, spiritual, artistic, and intellectual growth. Each sculpture features an interior LED light that is touch-sensitive, allowing viewers to change the lighting colors and shadow on the trees and walkways at night.
Public Art Abounds at the new Mitchell Park Library & Community Center
The Public Art Program, in consultation with a variety of stakeholders, formulated an overall plan for the art at the new Mitchell Park Library & Community Center. The four art pieces throughout the facility encompass a diversity of artists and styles.
At the entrance to the facility is an artwork by Bay Area artist Bruce Beasley, whose work is in many major museum collections in the U.S. and aboard, including SF MoMA, Oakland Museum, The Guggenheim Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The piece created for Palo Alto, Arpeggio V, is an arch-like granite form that makes a beautiful gateway to the new community center and library. While the sculpture does not move, it implies motion and interaction between the shapes that it captures. The piece resonates with the programming of Palo Alto's diverse community and the varied activities taking place at the new facility. The granite from the sculpture is echoed in the architecture and landscaping throughout the complex. For more information about the artist, visit the Bruce Beasley website. Image by Palo Alto Pulse.
Artist Roger Stoller, of Portola Valley, was selected to create a signature piece for the entryway of the library. The artwork, Cloud Forest, was inspired by El Palo Alto and the coastal redwoods that rely on the coastal wings to spread their seeds for future generations. Cloud Forest is a latticework of stainless steel that appears to flow through the glass entrance to the library and continue inside. Stoller writes, "Just as a book can offer entry into another world, Cloud Forest, will transform the library entrance into a steel-forest portal of abstract shape and light."
Artist Mark Verlander created the dynamic 16-panel mural, Follow Your Heart, after meeting with youth in the community and asking them what living in Palo Alto means to them. The individual hanging panels, installed in the new teen center, may be rearranged and reversed to show different images on the back.
A series of six shiny owls in two poses by Dallas-based artist Brad Oldham, Whimsy & Wise, greet visitors entering the library and community center site.
The sculptures physically reflect the environment around them while creating a protective vehicular barrier for visitors to the library and community center. The artist was inspired to create playful sculpture that youth would enjoy interacting with. Oldham says, "Each kid walking in to the library will see his reflection and become part of the sculpture."
We created a Mitchell Park Public Art Map which shows the locations and provides descriptions of seven artworks throughout the park.
Past Temporary Projects
The Artwork Forge 2.0 by Toby Fraley: Robotic Art Making Art at Palo Alto’s King Plaza
Displayed in King Plaza November 2017 - April 2018, Toby Fraley’s Artwork Forge 2.0 was a retro-style interactive robotic sculpture that creates on-demand unique artworks for visitors in just two minutes. By inserting four quarters, a visitor could watch their artwork being “created” by the Forge, and eventually being deposited into a tray on one end of the sculpture for collection. While leaving the visitor with a textbook-perfect work of art as a result of this automated process, the artist reminded one playfully to think what a human artist brings to works of art that a machine may never be able to produce.
Over 1000 people have interacted with the Artwork Forge over the course of 6 months. The sculpture prompted animated debates between friends and strangers as to whether or not the Forge created the work of art, or if the Forge was simply distributing pre-made artworks. Many visitors became real fans of the retro-style sculpture and started collecting printed artworks while sharing them on social media. Over a hundred different designs of the artworks, some with images site-specific to Palo Alto, are randomly dispensed to ensure the user experience is always filled with surprise and anticipation of something fun and unexpected.
The Artwork Forge 2.0 was specially created for Palo Alto, and is the second rendition of the artwork, designed by Fraley to withstand a 6-month installation in a highly used public plaza. Fraley built the interactive sculpture from scratch using re-purposed RV windows and doors, retrofitted home appliances and electronics, and custom-built mechanisms dispensing the artworks on demand.
The piece was commissioned in partnership with the Palo Alto Art Center in conjunction with their exhibition, Play!.
The Running Wall by Aaron Lee Benson
Aaron Lee Benson’s Running Wall was a temporary site-specific functional sculpture for King Plaza in downtown Palo Alto that remained on display October 2016 – March 2017. Constructed of two by fours, Running Wall begins with a bench connected to a rippling low wall that serpentines between the trees and culminates in a circular sculptural element at the other end of the installation. The concept for the artwork was conceived by the artist after hearing feedback from the Public Art Master Plan outreach efforts about the community’s strong desire for more functional art and more site-specific work. Benson and staff focused on a way to bridge the plaza hardscape and the formal alley of trees with a strong sculptural piece that would break the strict geometry of the plaza. At the conclusion of the six-month installation, all wood was donated to graduate students of the Stanford University Art Department.
In Search of the Truth came to King Plaza on April 19, 2017
Wednesday, April 19, people in Palo Alto spent the day trying to answer the question, “What is Your Truth?” when the acclaimed In Search of the Truth (The Truth Booth) project made an appearance on King Plaza in front of City Hall. The giant inflatable speech bubble and video recording booth popped up from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in front of the City of Palo Alto City Hall located at 250 Hamilton Avenue. The public was invited to enter and record two-minute videos beginning with the statement, “The truth is….” The Truth Booth’s creators have already captured thousands of definitions, representations, confessions, and thoughts on “the truth” worldwide, and continue to engage the public in an interactive experience with art, media, and free speech. Participation was free and open to the public. Check out a video of the event on the City of Palo Alto's YouTube Channel.
Dynamic Musical Artwork Installed at City Hall's King Plaza
The City of Palo Alto Public Art program installed Chime, an interactive sound sculpture by artists Dan Gottwald and Scott Watkins, on May 16, 2016 in front of City Hall. The multiple panel sculpture arrived on King Plaza between the trees remained on display through early September. Intentionally designed and built for the physical interaction by multiple users at once, Chime invited the public to create their own musical experience. By pushing large curved panels that make up the outer walls of the sculpture and activating the pendulums hanging inside, participants were able to create their own melodic sounds. On July 21, Artist Dan Gottwald and electronic musician Will Gluck performed a piece specially composed for Chime in a live musical performance on King Plaza. Gottwald and Gluck performed the collaborative production that showcased the analog instrument of Chime's sounds with elements of electronic music in new and innovative ways.
“Though there is no electronic component of Chime, it is built to respond to touch…A simple push on one large wooden panel set into motion a series of sounds, an exploration of connectivity and smiles.” Dan Gottwald
Artworks Installed at City Hall’s King Plaza
Palo Alto Public Art Program kicked off a series of rotating temporary public art installations on King Plaza with Bruce Beasley’s Rondo I. The result of years of experimentation with shape and form, Beasley created the Rondo series with the intention of creating art on a large scale that feels effortless and light; something that frames and compliments the surrounding environment. Over the next two years, selected artists will activate King Plaza in new and exciting ways, offering visual, musical, and participatory experiences lasting from a few months up to one year in length. Located in front of City Hall, Palo Alto’s King Plaza is the ideal location to establish a sustainable venue for public discourse through the arts. During the current public art master planning community outreach process, engagement with more than 200 residents has revealed a lot of support for more temporary public art offering new and unexpected public art experiences.
The Permanent Collection Maintenance Program
The Public Art Program is hard at work undertaking an ambitious maintenance and restoration project for the permanent collection. Many of our artworks are being cleaned and receiving preventative treatment to protect them from the elements. Some of the works that have received more aggressive treatment or repair are: Albuquerque by Gale Wagner, Rrrun by Marta Thoma, and Nude in Steel by Hans Wehrli. If you notice vandalism or artworks in disrepair, please call the Public Art office immediately at 650-329-2227. Thank you!