It's not looking good for public art in San Diego, especially now that the Port of San Diego has drastically cut its public-art program's budget.

The Port's Board of Commissioners voted on Tuesday, June 11, to cut $600,000 from the $1.2 million that had previously been allocated to the public-art program's operating budget. Additionally, $1.5 million was deducted from the program's reserves, leaving $900,000. The combined $2.1-million reduction is helping cover an overall port shortfall of $4.9 million.

"Basically, the port had some really difficult decisions to make," said spokesperson Tanya Castaneda. "The source of the cuts is the cost of doing business has gone up. The port has been making reductions for the past five years or so."

While the fate of every public-art project under proposal is in limbo, Castaneda confirmed the cancellation of two pieces that were in the planning stages: Margaret Noble's "Tideland Sessions" and Randy Walker's "WRAP Project," about which we wrote in March.

"Ouch," said Noble when CityBeat broke the news to her.

Walker didn't respond to emails by press time. 

Noble's been working on her commissioned experimental sound-art series for about a year. Set on a Chula Vista shoreline, the series was going to use large-scale musical kites and performances by the Sacra / Profana choral group to activate the surrounding environment.

Noble said she submitted her final design proposal in April but was told that her project would have to be put on hold due to impending changes in the public-art program. She anticipated a decision about her project's future in July.

"It's kind of unfair to put people on hold. We're just sitting here waiting," Noble said. "For me, this is the business of art. The majority is rejection. I'm very used to it. This doesn't take away my belief in the work or myself. I get it. I'm not going to be angry at people that can't pay their bills."

Noble hopes the piece can one day be realized in some form.

"Tideland Sessions," Noble said, is a departure from the kind of art the port's funded in the past. "It's definitely disappointing," she said of the project's cancellation. "I'm not mad. I was just really excited."

That sentiment is shared by David White, owner of North Park's Agitprop gallery and studio space and chair of the port's Public Art Committee. The port's new "curatorial strategy" was set to bring fresh public art by Patrick Shields, Jose Parral, Adam Belt, as well as Noble, Walker and others. These cuts seem to be a death knell for what had seemed like a thrilling time in public art for San Diego, White said.

"It wasn't going to be more of the same bad public art that the port is known for," he said. "It seemed like things were going in a new positive direction, and, basically, the rug has been pulled out from underneath us.

"If they were being a little more forthcoming, they'd just say this was the elimination of public art," he added.

Even with the outcry from the arts community, Castaneda assured that there's hope for some of the artists.

"Board members in multiple meetings expressed a lot of concern and heartache about cutting public art. We have to think about long-term financial health of the organization," she said. "Once the port can afford to do so, it's a priority for them to restore public art, but it probably won't be right away."


Write to alexz@sdcitybeat.com. You can also bug her on Twitter.

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