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Plaza Curtain May Sprout Branches

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Armchair art critics will have to find some other sculpture to pick on--the copper curtain could be getting a new look.

The county’s most maligned public artwork--the dull-brown rectangle of copper strips that adorns the freeway side of the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza--may soon be enhanced with another sculpture that uses the curtain as a backdrop.

As envisioned by Thousand Oaks architect Francisco Behr, an asymmetric sculpture of gnarled, bare oak branches with a verdigris finish would spread across the curtain.

To give the sculpture--and City Hall’s public face--a more unified look, the curtain would be bracketed above and below by weathered green copper. Cut into the top bracket would be the words “Civic Arts Plaza.”

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A sign above the curtain would read, “City of Thousand Oaks.” Space would be left for the name of anyone willing to contribute $5 million to the arts center.

Fixing the unpopular copper curtain has been a community priority since the $64-million Civic Arts Plaza opened with a scaled-down, tacked-down version of a sculpture that was supposed to weather with age and flutter in the breeze, greeting thousands of commuters daily.

“One of the ideas tossed out early on was to put an oak tree on the copper curtain,” Behr said. “But a lollipop, bulls-eye tree plopped in the center of the curtain wouldn’t be very interesting, and some worried that it would tell the public viewing it from the freeway that this community had low artistic vision. It would be too unsophisticated, uninteresting and simplistic.”

Armed with a camera, Behr decided to confront the copper curtain conundrum.

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He visited 50 or 60 neighborhood oaks, photographed the most fetching and put the abstract design of their branches down on paper free of charge. His concept--to be forwarded to the City Council in mid-March--was unanimously endorsed Thursday by a committee charged with making the curtain snazzier and adding a sign to the Civic Arts Plaza.

“I think it is a really spectacular effect that is emblematic of Thousand Oaks,” said Councilwoman Judy Lazar, who sat on the committee of city leaders and arts advocates.

Several versions of the design, each with a different branch pattern, could be offered for the public to view on cable television, the committee decided. Residents could then call in their favorites to the city.

Adding the second sculpture could cost $60,000 to $100,000 beyond the $75,000 already set aside for adding a sign to the building, Lazar said.

But arts advocate and former Councilman Bob Lewis argues it would be money well spent if people stop ridiculing the copper curtain--disparaged by some residents as a “refrigerator’s backside.”

“I hope the jokes will stop,” said Lewis, chairman of the Alliance for the Arts. “This really is not a joke facility. It’s a world-class arts center that deserves to be treated accordingly.”

Arts Commission Chairwoman Jane Brooks said she believes the public will welcome the copper-curtain-as-backdrop concept.

“The copper curtain was controversial for a lot of reasons, and I think this is the perfect enhancement for it,” she said. “It includes a solution to the public outcry in a way that is a nice--how would you say it?--fix.”

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