Election Section

Commentary: Arts Coverage Found Wanting By ROBIN HENDERSON

Friday July 29, 2005

How appropriate that Richard Brenneman’s article “Brower Sculpture Decision Could Come Monday” appeared next to the “Corrections” box! As if the innuendo and lack of objectivity of the article weren’t bad enough, the misinformation and errors delivered in faux 19th century voice are characteristic of the writer’s careless diction and inaccuracy in reporting. Unless they were promised anonymity, it would be instructive to know the sources of Brenneman’s coverage, which is an embarrassment to the Berkeley Daily Planet, and a disservice to its’ readers. 

Who is the chair of the Civic Arts Commission? It is not the individual whom the reporter named. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to accept the Brower Monument. There is no representation of David Brower associated with the sculpture, neither on it, nor adjacent to it. The name of the sculpture is not “Spaceship Earth.” The university was not asked to site the sculpture. Tilden Park and Lawrence Hall of Science were eliminated early on as possibilities, and were not on the final list of 30 potential sites. The Brower Center was not considered an appropriate site for the piece. From what sector came the “considerable opposition” to Berkeley’s accepting the Eino piece? 

The article suggests that the Civic Arts Commission has been inept and unfair in its processes. The site selection committee included, among others, members from the Waterfront Commission, the Recreation and Parks Department, the city manager’s office, and members of the Maxwell family, as well as members of the Civic Arts Commission. On what basis does the author assert that the sculpture has had “at best a lukewarm response in the community?” The purpose of the Sunday, July 22, meeting was to get community feedback on the sculpture and the potential site. If the community rejected the sculpture, two other sites were under consideration. The article neglects to mention this. 

The Brower article was mild in its obvious bias, compared to past trashing of the Civic Art Commission. Particularly lacking in objectivity has been the coverage of the “Here/There” public art sculpture. Whatever the staff of the Planet and its supporters may think of the piece, as in the case of the siting for the Brower monument, the selection process for “Here/There” was fair.  

An editorial cartoon suggested that the selection panel for “Here/There” was middle-aged, white, middle-class and not from the community. In fact, if your staff had observed the most basic rules of reporting, they would have discovered that there were three African Americans on the selection panel, two of whom are distinguished artists with international reputations and all of them residents of Berkeley. They were: Mildred Howard, Dewey Crumpler and Barbara Coleman. Ms. Howard, an artist with a prestigious record, is a life-long resident of the neighborhood where the sculpture is located and another panelist, Brenda Prager, a member of the Civic Arts Commission, died in her home two blocks from the the site of the “Here/There” installation in 2003. Both of them strongly supported accepting the piece. The Planet’s negative coverage of the “Here/There” installation was gratuitous and patronizing to the residents of South Berkeley/North Oakland, who are more sophisticated than critics of the piece. Unlike the critics, they understand post-modernism and have a sense of humor. 

Visual arts coverage in the Planet is infrequent and often inaccurate, a tradition one hopes will be corrected before Berkeley’s vibrant visual arts community dies of neglect or goes elsewhere. 

Robbin Henderson is director of the Berkeley Art Center.