Written by The Business Journal Staff
Fresno’s multi-million dollar public art collection is getting a long-overdue makeover and will be ready for its grand re-unveiling when downtown’s new Fulton Street opens for business next spring.
City officials are spending $5 million to remove, restore and reinstall the mall’s 22 pieces of public art, currently valued at about $2.5 million.
The amount budgeted to handle Fulton Street’s public art makeover represents 25 percent of the $20 million city council members approved in 2015 to convert the Fulton Mall back into a two-way street. The majority of the funds being used in the project come from a $16 million federal transportation grant.
Randall Morrison, Fresno’s deputy city engineer, is overseeing the Fulton Street Restoration Project and said this week the effort remains “on budget and on schedule.”
“We’re still on track to complete everything by May 8 of next year,” Morrison said. “There may be some small items and punch list stuff to do after that, but so far, things have gone very smoothly. Last week was a really big week for the project with our first paving.”
Last week workers poured concrete for some of the street’s curbs as well as the project’s first new fountain, located just north of Inyo Street.
Morrison said city officials have set up a time-lapse camera on a downtown building rooftop that takes a photo of the project every 30 minutes. Those photos are looped together and available on the City of Fresno website. “It’s pretty cool to see the progress,” Morrison said. “We’re really starting to see things coming together.”
Earlier this year, leading downtown revitalization proponent and Fulton Mall business owner Craig Scharton said the No. 1 most frequently asked question about the Fulton renovation project that he hears is “What about the art?”
“If you care about the public art collection, which was purchased by local citizens and donated to the city, then you will love this project,” said Scharton, whose Peeve’s Public House restaurant and pub, located on Fulton, has been closed since shortly after demolition work on the mall started. (Scharton, who is reportedly recruiting additional business partners and retooling his business plan, has yet to announce a date when Peeve’s will reopen.)
American Paving, the local contractor doing the Fulton project, is working with Los Angeles-based Sculpture Conservation Studios to oversee the art collection’s removal, restoration and reinstallation. L.A. Packing, Crating and Transport is handling the transport and temporary storage of the artwork. And Linda Cano of AXIS Art Consulting and Bay Area-based Architectural Resources Group are both assisting the city in overseeing the restoration work and updating the project’s progress on social media, Morrison said.
“All of the art pieces except a few have been de-installed,” Morrison said. Only a handful of the most delicate sculptures, including the iconic clock tower on the Mariposa Mall, remain to be removed.
“So far, there have been no surprises,” Morrison said. “The art conservators are doing a great job.”
The individual pieces that comprise the collection will be reinstalled near their former locations, except for the Three Fires set of sculptures — Spreading Fires, Leaping Fires and Smoldering Fires — by Oregon artist Claire Falkenstein and Dancing Waters by Valley artist Stan Bitters, one of the original centerpieces of the mall art collection. Those sculptures, Morrison said, will be reinstalled at the new, pedestrian-only Kern Plaza near the entrance of Chukchansi Park.
When Fulton Street reopens to two-way auto traffic, the east side of the street will feature a 28-feet-wide sidewalk while the west side of the street will have 14-foot sidewalks. Aaron Blair, president and CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership, said that in most cases, the art pieces will be placed along the sidewalks within a couple of feet of their original locations.
Blair also noted that Fresno’s downtown public art collection includes a sculpture by renowned French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir called The Washerwoman. “As far as I know, it is the only [publicly displayed] sculpture by Renoir that people are actually allowed to get up close to and touch,” Blair said.
Morrison said he expects the artwork to begin being reinstalled “close to the end of the project. You probably won’t start to see that happening until after the first of the year.”