At a regular West Hollywood City Council meeting on Monday, February 5, 2024, the City Council removed Agenda Item 2.M. from the Consent Calendar and effectively rejected an agreement to proceed with a temporary public art exhibition by Janet Zweig titled “A Poetry Generator for WeHo” at the traffic median of Santa Monica Blvd and Doheny Drive. In a 4-1 vote, the council directed staff to find a different location for the artwork.
Zweig’s proposed artwork envisioned an interactive poetic experience at the West Hollywood/Beverly Hills gateway. The exhibition, with a total budget of $200,000 covering all associated costs including fabrication and installation, would incorporate up to 50 words on each sign, totaling 250 words, to generate a poetic text readable by both pedestrians and drivers. Collaborating with the City Poet Laureate, Zweig would curate the word selection, ensuring an engaging and diverse experience for viewers. The final placement of the signs, designed to be visible to drivers while closer to the median’s pedestrian path, would be determined in consultation with the Engineering and Building and Safety Divisions.
During public comments, Nik Roybal raised safety concerns before the council. He noted that the majority of comments from WEHO TIMES readers were against the project, mainly due to safety, equity, and access concerns. Roybal questioned why the project was only presented in English and why a local artist wasn’t chosen for the exhibition.
Council member John Heilman questioned the location of the proposed public art installation, highlighting issues related to pedestrian activity at a busy intersection. He suggested a better location would be on San Vicente Avenue, near West Hollywood Park and the WeHo Library.
Arts Manager Rebecca Ehemann clarified that the renderings in the Staff Report were only conceptual to provide an initial impression of the artwork. She stated, “We have already indicated that public safety is a concern. We recognize right off the bat that the proposed locations of those foundations for the sculptural elements are way too close to the edge of the curb line. And we are working with the artists to bring those closer to the existing pedestrian path, which is ADA accessible in the median of Santa Monica Boulevard. It is intended to invite interaction; it’s intended to invite people to turn the mechanism to change the words in the top of the art elements. And we will be in coordination with the artist to review the final drawings with our engineering, building, and safety teams, so there’s a lot more work to be done.”
Ehemann added that they welcomed proposals from all over the country, including local West Hollywood residents.
Councilmember Lauren Meister, who removed the item from the Consent Calendar, mentioned the large construction hole in that area, which she said deters pedestrian activity at the proposed location and would result in less interaction with the art piece. She proposed relocating the project to West Hollywood Park, where she believes it would receive more interaction.
“I think this is the wrong location for this project,” she said. “It literally is sitting across from a hole…there is no pedestrian activity there at all. So you may advertise this and it’ll bring people maybe one weekend, maybe two weekends, you’re not going to get two years of activity there… It’s different when it’s art and people are driving by and they see [it], but this is interactive… my feeling is you either delay it for a couple of years until the hole is filled, or you put it someplace else. I like the idea of the West Hollywood Park somewhere.”
Councilmember Sepi Shyne supported the item but agreed that West Hollywood Park would be a better spot for this art piece. She suggested the art feature different languages, possibly in other parts of the city.
Mayor Erickson also agreed that the location was wrong for this installation. He suggested that WeHo Arts go back to the drawing board and bring the item back with a new location.
Vice Mayor Chelsea Byers spoke in favor of the proposal, stating that she lived nearby and valued the art in that area. “I can appreciate what this art is doing and taking our attention away from the left side or the right side of the street and drawing us to the left where there are a number of businesses who I think would not like to hear us say that that’s a very bad part of town,” she said. “There’s many of us who live there already and are looking for more art in this space. And I think this does a lot to actually draw people.”
Councilmember Meister made a motion to proceed with the project but explore alternative locations that are more inviting and suitable for pedestrian engagement. The council discussed the process of finding a new location for the public art installation, emphasizing the need to return the project to the Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission for further consideration of alternative locations and programming possibilities.
The motion to not approve the contract for the current location and explore alternative sites, potentially involving the Parks, Facilities, and Recreation Commission for park-related locations, passed 4-1, with Vice Mayor Byers voting no.