Sculpture uprooted from Civic Center grounds

Positioned in the breezeway between the Newport Beach City Council chambers and community room, just to the side of the main thoroughfare, a fabricated piece of metal lies fastened to the ground.

It's the only outdoor sculpture at the Civic Center, unless one counts the concrete bunnies scattered throughout the park for children's play. But come March 26, when a year-long lease agreement ends, the sculpture will be removed.

The Newport Beach City Arts Commission declined Thursday to keep the 135-pound artwork for one more year, as creator Sarah Wilkinson had offered for a cost of $1,000.

When the Civic Center opened in May, the sculpture was intended to signal that the city valued art, Commissioner Robert Smith explained.

Smith and two other commissioners had gone to see the piece in Wilkinson's home and liked the idea of using the work, titled "Uprooted II" as a temporary loan, he said. At the time, the city was not in a position to buy new works.

"Our intent from day one was it was a short-term lease," Smith said.

Measuring 7 feet long, 6 feet wide and 20 inches high, Wilkinson's sculpture is modeled from stainless steel and bronze to resemble a piece of kelp she found on the beach in Corona del Mar, where the artist and landscape architect lives.

The city signed off on a $750 loan agreement for it. Over the months that followed, a new public art initiative was planned for the Civic Center, per Mayor Pro Tem Ed Selich's suggestion.

Now, a review facilitated by Arts OC is underway to select 10 sculptures for a two-year exhibition set to begin this fall. More than 150 artists submitted 260 entries — ranging from bronzes to abstracts.

"We're adding things to this park that are making it a place that people use," Selich said in an interview Friday. "When we add these sculptures in, it's going to be another reason for people to come."

If the program is well-received, eight or 10 more could be added the following year.

Wilkinson's piece would not be considered as one of them — at least for the first round. She said she had been advised not to submit it.

"I'm not prepared to support that sort of as an anomaly or outside component," Commissioner Charles Ware said during the short discussion about whether to keep "Uprooted II." "There's a broader program underway."

After Wilkinson left the meeting teary-eyed, Councilwoman Nancy Gardner commended the commission for making what they believed to be the right choice, rather than fall prey to their emotions.

"Anybody that has to say no, it's painful," Gardner said.

"It's always with a heavy heart," Chairwoman Rita Goldberg responded.

Wilkinson's piece was valued at $25,000, and is part of a two-part series meant to represent the natural and man-made disasters that disturb peoples' lives and the environment around them. The first sculpture, "Uprooted," was shown in San Diego and now stands in her front yard.

"Uprooted II" was originally displayed in Australia.

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