The Cost of Saving Santa Monica's Anti-Nuke Sculpture?

City commissioners could decide Thursday to put aside $85,000 for the sculpture. The city has already spent $61,000 on testing.

The artist's son and city staffers don't agree on how much it will cost to repair an anti-nuke sculpture at Santa Monica's Civic Center.

The latest estimates from City Hall put the price tag as high as $550,000, while Dave Conrad, son of Pulitzer prize winning political cartoonist Paul Conrad, says it can be done for much less, between $80,000 and $95,000.

City staffers are recommending, however, that the Arts Commission earmark on Thursday night up to $85,000, or about half, of the city's Cultural Trust Fund to rebuild the sculpture. The money would only be released, however, if and when the community could make a dollar for dollar match.

The debate about whether to keep the mushroom cloud sculpture, named Chain Reaction, in the city's public art collection erupted after a preliminary report released early last year found the piece had corroded and could topple in an earthquake or sever windstorm. City officials have argued they can't justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to preserve the work.

Cultural Affairs Manager Jessica Cusick explains in a report to the city's Arts Commission:

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.

Cusick said her cost estimations are from Peter Carlson, who worked with Paul Conrad to fabricate the original work. The higher amount includes the cost to rebuild (between $420,000 and $475,000), while the cost of repairing would be a bit lesst, between $270,000 and $300,000. Placing a landscape barrier around the sculpture to keep kids from climbing on it would cost an additional $80,000, she said.

Dave Conrad said the city is ignoring a September report from a structural engineer who concluded Chain Reaction is "not an imminent hazard nor should it be considered dangerous."

He said he has met with an arts conservationist who, based on photos and the September report, estimated the cost at between $80,000 and $95,000. "We are led to believe the structure is sound and the work could be done for less," he said.

Chain Reaction was installed in Santa Monica's Civic Center 21 years ago as a "statement of peace." The city has so far spent $61,000 on tests.

"In my opinion, the artist's assertions that the work can be done for a lot less simply do not take into account the reality of what the city requires," Cusick told Patch. "To be built and declared safe, it has to be built according to the requirement of the [city] building inspector," which also means meeting standards set by the Secretary of State and the city's Landmarks Commission.

See also: Sculpture Gets Unanimous Landmark Vote

With help from some Santa Monica residents, such as Jerry Rubin, and the city, Conrad said he has so far raised about $9,000.

Tom January 18, 2013 at 04:24 PM
I don't understand why there is such s wide gap between pricing for repairs. I think a third party should be called in. Oh and coming from a person with a little landscapeing background, 80k for a landscape barrier wow, the city sure knows how to spend money. $800.00 is more Luke it.
Jill Nani January 18, 2013 at 05:00 PM
Take the repair money and apply it to the homeless situation. Art is important, but people are more important.
Jon Mann January 18, 2013 at 10:01 PM
Monuments such as Chain Reaction are found in capitol cities all over the world. This "sculpture" symbolizes the old progressive Peoples' Republic of Santa Monica. Unfortunately, it looks like a seal balancing a beach ball. It should be rebuilt so it requires a minimim of maintenance and looks like Conrad's original political cartoon. Too much money is being spent on "studies" that probably go to contributers to incumbent campaigns and SMRR candidates. To raise money the old sculpture should be scrapped and each chain link sold to raise money to erect a larger, more realistic and sturdier sculpture (for higher donations spray the links bronze, silver, gold or platimum). It should be centrally located in the new park at the Village (across the street from where it is now). To restrict children and others it should be raised on a pedestal (like the Statue of Liberty) and surrounded by a moat or water fountain, rather than the present chain link fence. Conrad intended the original as a symbol of peace, although reactionary elements who object to that message can regard it as a symbol of America's military might.
Bruce Campbell January 19, 2013 at 01:25 AM
There was a contract signed in the early 1990s that Paul Conrad would maintain the sculpture for the 1st year, & the City of Santa Monica would then take over care for it. Yet, to my knowledge the only money that SM has spent on the "Chain Reaction" sculpture is the $61,000 to invasively check it out. If one walks around the sculpture these days, one notices that a few portions of it look like it is falling apart, but this is the result of damage by the city to this amazing work of art, rather than the sculpture falling apart on its own. And now that it has become landmarked, there is that status plus the contract which, if enforced, might see the city paying for all the costs to maintain and restore this landmark. It is nice to see that "staff" attitude is beginning to change in regards to Santa Monica's most well-known piece of art, the "Chain Reaction" peace monument sculpture by legendary cartoonist and sculptor Paul Conrad. Staff is now proposing to allot $20,000 to repair the sculpture (to correct the damage done by SM), plus $85,000 toward restoring this work (as long as the public raises a matching amount). This is progress, & shows that some staffers are more sensible than the City Manager who has been on a vendetta to take "Chain Reaction" to the scrap-heap for years. The City Mgr. reached a conclusion that the sculpture was unsafe, & hired an expert to examine it. That co. concluded that it was not dangerous, yet City personnel still claim that it is.
Bruce Campbell January 19, 2013 at 01:40 AM
And my main point .... What does it say to an artist (well-known or otherwise) considering donating or selling a piece of art to Santa Monica if a multiple Pulitzer Prize winner's most well-known sculpture has only been damaged rather than maintained by the city, and that there are serious forces entrenched in city government which want to haul it to the dump or recycling center? If a renowned artist and his family (including Conrad's 95 y.o. widow in a wheelchair) is treated like that, what kind of treatment by the city can lesser known artists expect? Please call upon your City Councilmembers to support the compromise measure that the city should fund the repair for the damage that they did, and later contribute some funds (with a maximum given) to restore the project (as long as matching funds are raised). This is a moral, legal, and responsible compromise.
Dan Charney April 04, 2013 at 05:18 AM
Of course it will take less- thanks Bruce- will do it asap


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