City Council Meeting: January 22, 2013

    Agenda Item: 8-B  


To:               Mayor and City Council 

From:           Karen Ginsberg, Community & Cultural Services Director

Subject:        Next steps for Chain Reaction sculpture by Paul Conrad



Recommended Action

Staff recommends that the City Council:

1)    Authorize the expenditure of up to $20,000 to temporarily patch and secure the sculpture.

2)    Allow the sculpture as fenced, to remain in place for up to one year, through February 1, 2014, to allow the community additional time to raise the funds necessary for its rebuilding.

3)    Authorize the commitment of up to $85,000 in funding from the Cultural Trust Fund, to be used as a match on a dollar for dollar basis to assist in community fund raising. The match would only be made available if and when the full amount needed to rebuild the sculpture is secured and the project moves forward.

4)    Authorize the commitment of up to $80,000 to be used for a landscape barrier around the work should the rebuilding of the sculpture move forward.


Executive Summary

The sculpture, installed in 1991, is in need of major conservation work. On March 20, 2012, the City Council approved the Arts Commission’s recommendation to remove Chain Reaction, and agreed to delay such action until November 15, 2012, to allow the family and members of the community time to fundraise for the necessary repairs.  At that time, if private funding to restore the work was not secured, the sculpture would be offered first to the artist’s family and heirs and/or to any arts institution of their choosing.  It would also be thoroughly documented for historic purposes prior to removal.  In July and November, the work and an associated parcel were designated as a City landmark by the Landmarks Commission.  To date less than $10,000 in private funding has been secured.  Staff recommends that the sculpture be patched, secured per the Building Official’s recommendations, and that the community fundraising effort be given additional time, up to a maximum of one year, to raise the necessary funds.


History of the sculpture
Chain Reaction, by Paul Conrad, was a gift to the City that was approved by City Council on October 9, 1990 after extensive public process and debate.  The work was originally offered to the City in 1988, and was not site specific in the sense that the artist offered it to other cities as well.  The acquisition was reviewed by a panel of three prominent artists who recommended support of the acquisition to the Arts Commission.  In order to gain public input, a model of the piece was displayed in the lobby of City Hall from July through October of 1989.  Of those surveyed, 730 citizens recommended against the City accepting the sculpture and 392 citizens favored its acceptance.  The Arts Commission voted three separate times over the course of the entire review process, each time to accept the gift.
The work was funded by a private donation to the Santa Monica Arts Foundation of $250,000.  It is important to note that in terms of Paul Conrad’s intent for the work, to the extent that it can be understood from the contract that he signed with the City, he specifically gave the City permission to move or to ‘abandon, dismantle or destroy the Work’.


The staff report that originally presented the sculpture for consideration states that the work will be made of bronze, which would require little or no maintenance.  However, as actually fabricated, the sculpture is made of copper tubing over a fiberglass core with an internal frame of stainless steel.  These materials, while durable, do not have the same permanence in an outdoor setting as cast bronze.  


Initial Evaluation of the Sculpture’s Safety

In the summer of 2011, the City’s Building Official observed members of the public, including children, climbing and interacting with the sculpture and was prompted to complete a preliminary evaluation of its safety.  The structural integrity of the work could not be ascertained based solely on visual observation; and a number of issues of concern were observed. An interdepartmental staff team decided, in the interest of public safety, to fence off and preclude access to the sculpture while additional research and analysis were performed. 


Initial Assessment and Findings

The City then assembled a professional team to assist in the assessment of Chain Reaction to determine its structural integrity.  Initial examination consisted of a visual inspection of the internal armature to detect any corrosion as well as lab testing of fiberglass and concrete samples along with sample chain-links and the fasteners that attach the chains to the fiberglass shell of the sculpture.  Overall the findings were mixed, with some aspects that performed well, some identified areas of concern, and some substantial unknowns, due in part to the inability to access certain areas of the sculpture without causing substantial damage to the work.  The consulting team and the City’s Building Official identified the need for further testing and developed preliminary estimates of both the anticipated costs of such tests as well as the likely cost of repair.  Prior to completion of all the necessary testing, and as presented in the table below, on March 20, 2012 Council was presented with a range of cost estimates based upon likely possibilities depending on the most probable outcomes of the tests.  In addition to testing, repair and conservation, it was recommended that if the City chose to retain the sculpture at the site, a landscaped barrier be put in place to limit public access to the work, particularly climbing by children. 


Preliminary estimates presented to Council 3/20/12


Low Estimate

High Estimate

Initial Assessment



Sub-total to date



Additional testing












Contingency 10%






Action by the Arts Commission and City Council

The Santa Monica Arts Commission held a special meeting on February 1, 2012 to hear public testimony and consider the status of Chain Reaction.  They considered the findings to date along with the City’s deaccession policy which outlines when a work may be removed from public display.  The Arts Commission voted 10 to 1 in support of the staff recommendation to deaccession and remove the sculpture.  The Commission also voted to recommend that such action be delayed by six months to allow the family and community supporters of Chain Reaction a period of time to raise the funds necessary to repair the work.


On March 20, 2012, the City Council approved the Arts Commission’s recommendation to remove the sculpture, and agreed to delay such action until November 15, 2012, to allow the family and members of the community time to fundraise for the necessary repairs.  Council further instructed staff to complete the recommended additional testing of the work. 


Landmark Status

The City’s Landmarks Commission took action on July 9, 2012 to designate the sculpture a city landmark, and on November 12, 2012 designated an associated landmark parcel surrounding the sculpture.  Any alteration, restoration, construction, removal, relocation or demolition of or to the sculpture or its associated landmark parcel will therefore require review and/or approval by the Landmark Commission pursuant to a Certificate of Appropriateness. The sculpture is now the City’s first landmarked work of public art.  It is no longer part of the City’s public art collection as it has been deaccessioned by the Arts Commission.




Council was last updated on the status of the sculpture via an information item on September 10, 2012.  The City Manager and staff met with members of the family, their attorney and community supporters on September 14th to discuss the status of the work and next steps prior to the November 15th deadline.  Supporters were informed that due to the press of City business the item was likely to return to Council in late January or early February.


Status of the Testing:

The City paid over $61,000 for all of the necessary testing of the work. The City’s Building Official received the final report from the structural engineer in late summer and issued a memo with his assessment of the findings on September 6, 2012, a copy of which is attached (attachment A). His recommendation is that in order to address the long-term safety concerns associated with the work, the dome of the sculpture needs to be removed and either repaired or replaced.


Revised Cost Estimates

Once the testing was complete, staff met with Peter Carlson, a fine art fabricator who worked with Paul Conrad to fabricate the original work.  Mr. Carlson’s firm developed preliminary estimates for two options to repair or rebuild the work, both of which include an initial assessment phase (attachment B).  It is important to note that these are preliminary, rough order of magnitude estimates, and Mr. Carlson expressed that until his firm had completed the initial assessment phase he could not commit to a more specific estimate. The range for option one (repair) is $270,000 to $300,000 and for option two (rebuild) is $420,000 to $475,000.  The estimates for both of these options include the costs of an initial assessment phase estimated at $20,000 to $25,000.  In either case the cost is likely to be substantially more than the original cost of the work. 


Status of Fundraising Efforts

To date the family and community supporters of the work have approximately $10,000 from contributions and the sale of two of Mr. Conrad’s artworks.  City staff has been providing assistance with the fundraising in a variety of ways, primarily by allowing the use of the Santa Monica Arts Foundation as a fiscal receiver for the project, at no cost.  Typically fiscal receivers charge between 5% and 10% of the funds raised for this service.  In addition the City has done considerable local outreach to make potential donors aware of the need, including press releases, listings on various websites, and a spot on City TV.  The community group’s fundraising efforts are ongoing and in October 2012 they enlisted the support of a grant writer to assist them in researching and writing grant applications.  


Community Context

At a time when the City has had to pay large sums to the State due to the loss of redevelopment, modify or defer major capital improvement projects, and continues to face a long-term budgetary structural imbalance, investing up to $555,000 in public funds in the rebuilding of a landmark sculpture, including an appropriate barrier, is not a responsible approach.  The Shotgun House offers a relevant example of how such a project can move forward as a collaboration between the City and the community.  The Santa Monica Conservancy is raising the money to rehabilitate the structure and the City has covered the costs of the necessary site improvements.  Comparably, in the case of Chain Reaction, the City Manager has committed to recommending to Council that the City cover the costs of the landscape barrier, estimated at $80,000, if the community group is successful in raising the necessary funds to rebuild the work.


Use of Art Funding for Repair or Rebuilding

Originally, in deciding to deaccession the work, the Arts Commission considered the high cost of repairing or rebuilding the work for future generations as one of the deciding factors.  To put the potential cost of these repairs in perspective, City Council allocated $100,000 in one-time funds in 2008 to assist with major conservation needs for the City’s collection.  The funds were used to repair three works: Big Wave, by Tony de Lap, which is also 20 years old; the installation by Michael Davis in the Public Safety Facility; and the work by Mauro Staccioli located at the intersection of Pico Blvd and Ocean Ave. Staff did an analysis of the average amount spent on the care and maintenance of the City’s public art collection over the last four and half years, and the combined average, including the special one-time funds was approximately $47,000 a year.


Collection Maintenance
FY 08-09 to FY 12-13


 Regular Collection Maintenance

 Council Special Maintenance Fund (1)


 FY 2008-09




 FY 2009-10




 FY 2010-11




 FY 2011-12




 FY 2012-13 (2)












(1) One-time City Council allocation.

(2) Partial fiscal year expenditures from 7/1/12 to 12/31/12.



In addition, overall funding for public art has been substantially impacted by the loss of Redevelopment and the limited number of capital improvement projects that the City is moving forward with at this time.  The entire public art allocation in the City’s FY 12/13 Capital Improvement program was $161,194.


Another point of comparison in regard to the overall cost to repair or rebuild Chain Reaction, is the amount the City allocates on an annually basis to support grant programs to artists and arts organizations, which in FY 12/13 was approximately $390,000.  With limited arts funds available, the investment required to repair or rebuild the sculpture continues to be disproportionate in relation to overall community cultural funding priorities.  Further, the work has been formally deaccessioned according to the City’s policies and procedures, in part due to the high cost to repair.


Funds deposited by developers into the City’s Cultural Trust Fund pursuant to the Developer Cultural Arts requirement can be used for the restoration of works of art, as well as other community cultural priorities identified in the cultural plan, from grants to special events such as Glow, and other artistic or cultural uses recommended by the Arts Commission.  The current balance in the Cultural Trust Fund is $174,433.  A portion, or all of this amount could be allocated to partially offset the cost of repairing or rebuilding of Chain Reaction, however this would impact other community cultural priorities going forward.  Nonetheless staff is recommending that up to $85,000 of this fund be set aside to assist in community fundraising efforts by providing the possibility of a dollar for dollar match.  It is recommended that these funds only be released if and when community fundraising efforts successfully raised the amount needed to rebuild the sculpture and a contract to proceed with the work was to move forward.


Repair versus Rebuilding

If the City were to invest considerable funds in Chain Reaction, the more costly rebuild option needs be pursued both from a public safety perspective and as it would ensure the work’s future for a greater period of time.  The engineers’ report clearly shows that the longevity of the fiberglass shell is a key issue, particularly in the area of the top of the ‘mushroom’ cloud or dome.  Further, the City’s Building Official states that for safety reasons the fiberglass covering of the dome, including the base lath mesh needs to be replaced.


The issue is complicated by the fact that the kind of major alterations to the work which would be necessary during rebuilding, such as the recreation of the ‘cloud’ portion of the sculpture, could render the work essentially false.  This is due to the fact that the artist is not available to participate in the process, in particular the laying of the chains that finish the piece, an aspect of the work on which Paul Conrad spent a great deal of time.  These are considerations of considerable importance when it comes to a work of art, and it is one of the reasons that City staff felt  working with Peter Carlson made sense, since as the original fabricator he had worked very closely with the artist on key decisions and has a unique understanding of the piece. It is however not clear how these concerns apply in relation to a designated landmark, whose repair or rebuilding would need to be governed by the standards established by the Secretary of the Interior.


Ultimately, if the community group is successful in raising the necessary funds, the rebuilding of the sculpture will present complex challenges, which have been compounded by its landmark status, and which staff will need to explore in conjunction with engineers, conservators, historic preservation specialists, and specialized fabricators.  The City would most likely issue a RFP at that point for qualified teams to bid on the work.


Commission Action

An update on the status of Chain Reaction was presented to the Arts Commission on January 17, 2013.  The Commission was asked if they would recommend setting aside almost 50% of the monies currently available in the Cultural Trust Fund, for the rebuilding of the work.  Due to the date of the Arts Commission meeting, staff will provide Council with an oral update on any action taken at their meeting.



There are several alternatives City Council might choose to pursue:


Alternative 1: City Council could direct staff to initiate the required process to remove the landmarked sculpture by Paul Conrad, Chain Reaction, including applying to the Landmarks Commission for a certificate of appropriateness and ensuring compliance with CEQA.


Alternative 2: City Council could reprioritize the funds necessary for the repair or complete rebuilding of the work from other City projects and initiatives and allocate them to Chain Reaction.  Estimate: $350,000 to $380,000 to repair (including removal and assessment of the ‘cloud’ portion of the sculpture) or $500,000 to $555,000 to rebuild.  In addition to the costs of repair or rebuilding, these amounts include the estimated $80,000 needed to develop a landscape barrier for the work.

Financial Impacts & Budget Actions


If City Council were to support the staff recommendation to patch, secure the sculpture per the Building Official’s recommendations, and wait one year, funding is available in the FY 2012/13 budget for the Cultural Affairs Division to cover the estimated $10,000 to $20,000 cost in account 01560.555060. If community efforts successfully raise the amount needed to rebuild the sculpture and a contract to proceed with the work was to move forward, a one-time dollar for dollar match in the amount of $85,000 would be provided from the Cultural Trust Fund. 


Should staff be directed to pursue Alternative 1, proceed with the documentation and removal of the work; funds to cover the associated estimated costs of up to $30,000 are available in the FY 2012/13 budget for the Cultural Affairs Division. The costs associated with this recommendation will be charged to 01560.555060.  If Council were to choose to pursue Alternative 2 (repair or rebuild), Council action would be required to appropriate funding in an amount not to exceed $555,000 to account C010081.589000 for the repair or rebuilding of the sculpture and the provision of a landscape barrier.  Such funds would need to be reprioritized from other City projects and commitments.



Prepared by: Jessica Cusick, Cultural Affairs Manager





Forwarded to Council:






Karen Ginsberg

Director, Community & Cultural Services


Rod Gould

City Manager



Attachment A – Building official memo regarding Chain Reaction

Attachment B – Preliminary estimate from Carlson Arts, LLC