Though not quite a leap forward for mankind, the Santa Monica City Council’s decision to restore the mushroom cloud modern art sculpture known as Chain Reaction is at the very least one small step in the right direction for public art.
A divisive sculpture that drew both ire and praise by Santa Monicans, supporters of the 26-foot-tall Chain Reaction raised enough money to convince council members to commit additional funds to the public art piece designed by former Los Angeles Times cartoonist Paul Conrad.
The landmarked public art sculpture was gifted from Conrad to the City of Santa Monica in 1990. It is Santa Monica’s first-ever public artwork to be granted landmark status.
“The community fundraising has been very successful,” Cultural Affairs Manager Jessica Cusick told council members. “Due to the substantial amount of support and the landmark status of the work, we are recommending the City move forward with the restoration of the work.”
Council members agreed, with six of them voting in favor of accepting $101,290 in private funds raised for restoration and providing as much as $75,000 in public funds to perform testing of the structure’s stability.
With the vote, City staff will devise a restoration plan and look into whether a non-obtrusive landscape barrier must be built around the work.
Per the request of Council member Kevin McKeown, the design of the landscape barrier should not obstruct the aesthetic enjoyment of Chain Reaction but instead just be a tool to provide some space between the sculpture and the viewing public.
Council member Bob Holbrook was the sole “no” vote, stating he thought too much public money might be spent on the sculpture.
“When this sculpture was offered to the City, it was a gift. I don’t believe we received a gift that was promised,” Holbrook said, stating Chain Reaction was supposed to be made of bronze but was instead built with copper and fiberglass. “I’m a steward of the public funds and it’s just too much money.”
Holbrook said he fully supported possibly keeping the sculpture protected until enough money was privately raised to cover all the costs associated with restoring Chain Reaction.
During public testimony, the first speaker to address the council was Jerry Rubin, who had been the most vocal supporter of Chain Reaction since the campaign to restore it began two years ago.
“We’ve had support from a broad base and diverse community,” Rubin told the council before asking everyone in the gallery who supported Chain Reaction to stand. “The Save Chain Reaction endeavor will continue and we are very honored that Paul Conrad chose to give this to the City.”
Also addressing the council was Dave Conrad, son of Paul Conrad.
“One year ago you challenged us, the community, to raise enough money to restore the Chain Reaction sculpture. I believe you wanted us to prove to you how much people care about this piece of art and its message,” Dave Conrad told the council, adding the campaign to restore the sculpture garnered about 3,800 online supporters and more than 400 donations. “I think we have proven people do care about it.”
The Chain Reaction gift was made possible by a $250,000 donation by philanthropist Joan Kroc. In July 2012, the City’s Landmarks Commission unanimously declared Chain Reaction a landmark.
Earlier in 2012, the future of Chain Reaction was in doubt, with the council and City staff worried about the long-term safety concerns associated with the work. According to City staff, the dome of the sculpture needs to be removed and either rebuilt or replaced.
Though the sculpture was officially deaccessioned and therefore removed from the Santa Monica’s public art collection, City Hall is still responsible for certain maintenance costs.
City Hall estimated last year the cost to repair Chain Reaction would be about $227,000. A full rebuild of the sculpture could exceed $423,000, City staff stated to the council in 2013.
At a January 2013 council meeting, supporters stated less than $10,000 was raised as part of a private fundraiser. However, council members granted Chain Reaction supporters until February 2014 to raise additional funds.
When the February 2014 deadline arrived, an estimated $101,290 was raised in support of restoring the sculpture.
The fundraising efforts are still ongoing, according to supporters. According to Cusick, while more than $100,000 was already raised during a two-year campaign, another $100,000 to $300,000 might still be required to put into the sculpture.
Conrad, who had won a Pulitzer Prize, passed away in September 2010 at the age of 86.