Supporters of a nuclear mushroom cloud sculpture in Santa Monica have been given some breathing room in their campaign to preserve the late Paul Conrad’s artwork for future generations.
Having previously been given additional time to raise money for needed maintenance to Chain Reaction, supporters were allotted an extra year for their effort when the Santa Monica City Council voted 6-1 Jan. 22 to keep the fenced sculpture at its Civic Center location at least through Feb. 1, 2014. The 26-foot-tall structure made of chain links, which is constructed of copper tubing over a fiberglass core with an internal stainless steel frame, has stood at the site since 1991.
The council approved $20,000 in spending to temporarily patch and secure the work through the next year. Supporters, who have raised under $10,000 toward the refurbishment, would additionally be given $50,000 from the city’s General Fund to be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis for the fundraising campaign.
Concerns about the sculpture’s structural integrity arose in summer 2011 after a city building official saw some people climbing on the piece. Following preliminary testing, a wide range of estimates were provided to either repair or rebuild Chain Reaction, with one proposal as high as $555,000, including the installation of an $80,000 landscape barrier.
City officials emphasized concerns about the potential costs required to ensure the sculpture’s safety to the public but supported extending the fundraising deadline, as activists say they will be supported by a professional grant writer.
“I think it’s clear that we ought to give the community another 12 months to have a shot at raising this money,” Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day said.
Activist Jerry Rubin – who has helped lead the fundraising cause for Santa Monica’s first landmarked public art piece – applauded the city’s support, saying Conrad’s family and the community deserve the time extension.
“I think Chain Reaction is well worth giving it the extra time to save and restore it,” Rubin said. “I think the many people in the community who are trying to put energy into this important campaign fully deserve the city’s cooperation in this campaign.”
David Conrad, the son of the late Los Angeles Times political cartoonist, believes that having an endorsement of the City Council will strengthen the call for financial backing when approaching foundations and other groups.
“Now that they’re committing some money, when we go to art foundations they’re more likely to donate because they know the city’s behind it,” he said.
A gift to the city that was funded by a private donation of $250,000, Paul Conrad’s Chain Reaction was meant to call attention to the threat of nuclear weapons on the world. The three-time Pulitzer Prize winner’s son believes that message conveyed by the chain-link sculpture still resonates today.
Several speakers agreed that the artwork’s significance still holds strong when encouraging the council to give it more support.
“To deal with this as just an art piece would really be neglectful because it really transcends art,” said Robert Berman, an art gallery owner who compared the sculpture to the Statue of Liberty because it was also a gift to the city of New York.
Former Mayor Judy Abdo noted that the art piece’s installation was thoroughly discussed by her council colleagues and she believes they made the wise decision. “I think the symbolic message there is even clearer now than it was then,” she told the council.
Another former mayor, Mike Feinstein, wrote in a letter to the council, “The message of peace – and of opposition to war and nuclear weapons – is timeless, and cannot be boxed, documented and put in a museum and/or on the web somewhere.”
Mikaela Maxwell, 18, a student at New Roads School, explained that she was unaware of the sculpture’s symbolism as a youth but its message of peace now speaks to her.
“When I walk past the sculpture it means so much more than when I was 4 years old; it is really a statement for something I’ve believed in my whole life. I think those reasons are worth fighting for,” she said.
Others argued that the city should not commit any more financial resources toward the structure’s maintenance when other art projects could use them. “Just because one gives a gift to the city doesn’t mean it has to be showcased and maintained by the city through taxpayer dollars indefinitely,” David Watley said.
Councilman Tony Vazquez echoed some of the sentiments expressed by residents in favor of preservation.
“I think of all the pieces we have in the city that we’ve supported over the years, this is the most important; this actually has a message,” he said.
But Councilman Bob Holbrook, the only member to vote against the extension, said the city has already invested $61,000 for testing and he was not convinced that any more of its funds should be allocated for the effort. “It’s foolishness to waste another year,” he said.
Councilwoman Gleam Davis believes that foundations would be more likely to step up with donations if the city is willing to show it has “some skin in the game.”
Abby Arnold, a professional grant writer who has joined the fundraising cause, expressed confidence that having some seed money from the city and a positive outlook will go a long way in working with foundations.
With Arnold’s assistance and the later deadline, Dave Conrad was hopeful at the chances for preserving his father’s gift.
“I’m confident that we should be able to come up with what’s necessary,” he said.
Those wishing to donate to the campaign can do so at: www.conradprojects.com