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Port of San Diego public art

Implementing new curatorial vision

“Tidal Radiance,” by artist Leni Schwendinger, graces the facade of the Port Pavilion on Broadway Pier.

If you’ve walked by the corner of Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway, you may have noticed nationally acclaimed artist Roman de Salvo installing the Port of San Diego’s newest artwork, “The Riparium.” The abstract network of eucalyptus tree branches suspended from stainless steel masts will serve as a sculptural gateway to welcome the public into the new Ruocco Park, the Port of San Diego's 18th dedicated public park.

The port began its commitment to enhancing the public realm within its jurisdiction more than two decades ago through the inclusion of artwork. By incorporating art, the port is supporting its goals — fostering economic development for the region and attracting visitors to the waterfront.

To strengthen its commitment to the economy, the port’s Public Art Department was created in 1996 to oversee the placement of artwork on tidelands. Since then, more than 100 artworks have been included in the port’s Tidelands Collection.

Today, the Port of San Diego is implementing a pioneering new approach to commissioning innovative public art projects and exhibitions of contemporary artwork. Through the development and adoption of the organization’s first curatorial strategy, diverse works of art are expected to transform the look and public experience of the public tidelands.

Adopted by the Board of Port Commissioners in January 2012, the port’s five-year curatorial strategy is focused on projects by local, state, national and international artists whose works will underscore the port's role as an environmental steward, an economic engine and a provider of community services.

Projects, for example, will include commissioned artworks relating to energy, light, water and the import and export of goods shipped through the port’s National City Marine Terminal and the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal.

Board of Port Commissioners Chairman Lou Smith said the strategy will shape the visual look and character of the waterfront over the next several years. “We envision artworks that are going to reflect the diversity of the port and they will attract people to the waterfront as well,” Smith said.

The strategy includes a new public art program called tideLANDS. This new annual commissioning program will focus on commissioning temporary artworks by California artists who use imaginative approaches in activating public space, with the goal of providing new perspectives of the waterfront.

A special artist residency program is also envisioned, in which artists will conduct research into the port’s maritime business and at its conclusion, create an artwork that explores the work that occurs in the maritime industry.

Since its inception, the Port of San Diego has been committed to encouraging the creative expression of artists to produce innovative projects and exhibitions of contemporary art that enhance the visual excitement, aesthetic appeal and cultural richness of the tidelands. The new curatorial strategy is expected to engender even more exciting and distinctive artworks.

Through curatorial strategy programs and exhibitions, artists will be encouraged to explore the visual relationships, cultural meanings and hidden connections related to the Port of San Diego’s maritime, environmental and civic character in the production of new commissions of contemporary art.

“It is a forward-thinking and dynamic strategy that will serve as a catalyst in bringing innovative new forms of public art to the tidelands,” said Yvonne Wise, the port’s public art curator.

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