By Lauren Foliart
City News Reporter

Adding to the array of modern artwork decorating Pacific Avenue, downtown Santa Cruz incorporated 12 new sculptures this past month as part of the public art program SculpTOUR.

A joint endeavor by the city, the Santa Cruz Sunrise Rotary Club and the Downtown Association, sculptures have been put in five locations along downtown’s main drag.

Public art projects bring gallery art to the commonplace, intertwining the art world and the public, said Crystal Birns, arts coordinator for the City of Santa Cruz.

“When people go downtown to get groceries or see a movie, they are able to effortlessly interact with the art and the art becomes part of the overall experience of going downtown,” Birns said.

Curated by Gabriel Harrison and Kathleen Moodie Hilger, the exhibit contains artwork by seven local artists. All of it is for sale and is expected to be displayed throughout the next year.

Featured artists include blacksmith Kirk McNeil of Freedom Forge; kinetic sculpture artist Aaron Van de Kerckhove; architectural metalworker Paul Cheney; commercial designer artist Ron Lion; bronze and steel sculptor Marilyn Kuksht; Cabrillo College sculptor Jamie Abbott; and stone and masonry artist Michael Eckerman.

The pieces are strategically placed at intersections visible to both pedestrians and drivers, allowing the most public exposure possible.

Santa Cruz is still in the process of placing all the sculptures, but within a couple of weeks all should be on display with descriptive plaques bearing the name, artist, and artist’s Web site, Birns said.

Outside of Jamba Juice at the north end of Pacific Avenue, Kuksht’s and three of Lion’s pieces are displayed in a large planter box. Abbott’s steel abstracts accompany Cheney’s “Leaves” at Church Street. Eckerman’s sculpture of three dogs can be seen at Pacific and Lincoln and Kerckhove’s pendulum is on Walnut.

“I wasn’t too sure about displaying [the piece] in public,” featured artist Kirk McNeil said. “The piece has structural issues that do make it vulnerable.”

At Locust Street, McNeil’s ocean-themed steel sculpture depicts a hammerhead shark surrounded by spiraling anchovies.

The shark piece has received a lot of praise since the beginning of the exhibition, McNeil said.

All the sculptures have been drawing attention from downtown visitors and potential buyers.

“There’s been a ton of interest generated, and within a week I’d gotten a phone call regarding sale,” Birns said. “When we get plaques, landscaping and lights in, I bet we’ll get even more.”

Providing an alternative way of displaying local art, the SculpTOUR program is also a way for community artists to collaborate with the city and for the city to give support in return.

“Santa Cruz is a creative community,” Mayor Ryan Coonerty said. “We believe this program will not only beautify our downtown, but also provide a platform to showcase our local artists.”

The future of the program is unclear, but it is possible that the sculptures will be traded out after a year or two and new ones will be put in. If successful, the program may expand to other public areas of Santa Cruz.