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San Jose’s llluminating Downtown Program (IDP) is a multi-layered program that combines art, high-tech strategies and environmental sustainability to help realize San Jose’s goal of creating an engaging Downtown that looks, feels and acts like the Capital of Silicon Valley. IDP began with a planning charrette that identified two key downtown areas as project locations and four project types: Beacons, Gateways, Wayfinding and Points of Interaction.

ArtPlace spoke with San Jose Public Art Director Barbara Goldstein about the project.

ARTPLACE: What has been the thorniest issue you’ve faced to date? How have you dealt with it?

GOLDSTEIN: The thorniest problem we’ve faced to date is finding appropriate partners and locations for the project we envisioned. Our planning process recommended a clear set of locations and project types and we’ve been pursuing that path. The project types – beacons, wayfinding, gateways and opportunities for interaction – are all viable. And, while we’re in control of public sites, finding private partners has been somewhat trickier. This is a problem that public art programs are facing nationwide as capital projects have diminished in number and scope, programs are looking for expanded ways to continue placing art in the public realm. As we explore private partnerships for public art, something that is essentially new to San Jose, we are finding a lot of interest in the program, but greater hesitancy in financial participation.

The way we’ve dealt with the issue is by facing it head on. We have developed two projects, based on our project types. For ‘beacon’ projects we have issued a specific challenge to developers that we will fund artist design of a lighting improvement if the developer pays for the implementation and ensures its ongoing operating costs. We’re working with our Planning Department to reinforce the City’s interest in lighting building tops. We now have one partner developer whose project is in a very visible location and we are near building a partnership with a second developer.

We’ve learned that with ‘wayfinding’ the challenge is not the project type but determining the best ‘path’ for wayfinding. Having learned that, our strategy for resolving the issue is building a partnership with ZERO1’s residency program to hire an artist/team to create an ‘activation kit’ for illuminated wayfinding. The artist selected will be charged with creating a toolkit that pairs mobile technology, lighting and embedded networks, then working with other artists to create pilot projects that use that toolkit. Once the toolkit has been developed, we will be working closely with our downtown stakeholders to develop some illuminate pedestrian paths that use the toolkit to create interactive wayfinding. We are extremely optimistic and enthusiastic about this element of the project and hope to be announcing some significant partnerships in the next month or two. Stay tuned…

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