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The small city of Brea covers only 12.43 square miles between La Habra in the west and Chino Hills in the east, and is home to just over 40,000 people.
It’s also home to 178 pieces of public art.
“The size of the collection we have is outstanding compared to the size of our community,” Jenn Colacion, the city’s community services specialist, said. “It’s something that Brea is very proud of.”
Brea’s Art in Public Places (APP) program began in 1975 as one of the first collections of public art in the state, Colacion said. The APP program requires developments valued at $1.5 million or more to install art that is worth at least 1 percent of the project’s total value.
The program was inspired by former City Manager Wayne Wedin’s family trip to Europe in the 1970s. Wedin returned to Brea with a new appreciation for public art, which he hoped to implement in Brea, Colacion said.
The most recent additions to the collection are “Nature’s Retreat I” and “Nature’s Retreat II” by artist Karen Heyl, which were commissioned by the Walden Estates on Lambert Road and Sunflower Street this year. The housing development was required to create new art after its original piece was stolen—something that happens often with bronze pieces in the collection, Colacion said.
In March of this year, developer Shea Homes introduced nine new APP pieces to the Blackstone community. They were all created by Marlo Bartels, an Orange County-based artist whose mosaics can be found all over Southern California.
He said that he is inspired by things in Brea that “may not be obvious.” When creating two seashell-shaped pieces titled “Paleontological” for the Blackstone community, he was inspired by the fact that this part of the city “used to be under water.” He said that he enjoys finding the connection between the community and the art that he creates.
“One of the main purposes of public art is to create community,” Bartels said. “Some of the best public art does just that. It gives people a sense of pride in their community.”
Bartels has created over 10 pieces of art in the city of Brea, including developer-owned APP art and city-commissioned pieces, like the mural at the corner of Lambert Road and State College Boulevard that Bartel created “about eight to 10 years ago.”
While developers that meet the $1.5 million value mark must commission art, Colacion believes that the requirement gives developers a “unique opportunity to connect with the community.”
“I think that art gives the opportunity for people to experience things through other’s eyes. Art is in the eye of the beholder,” Colacion said. “We call it our outdoor art gallery. You can drive down the street and see 10 pieces of art on your morning commute. That’s what makes our diverse collection so great.”
Brea residents Terry Sullivan and Dena Sommer made it their goal to photograph each piece of art in the APP program when they became a couple in 2008. They call it their “adventure.”
“This is really our pet project in retirement,” Sommer said. “We grew up in Brea and think so highly of the city and what it gave us, so we’re sort of giving back.”
The couple now runs their own Brea’s Art in Public Places website, where they catalogue the collection with photographs, locations, and the various artists’ names. The city of Brea plans to use the couple’s photographs and website to promote the APP program, Colacion said.
“These type of people create the excitement about the program in the community,” Colacion said. “Having these advocates for the arts in Brea is what makes our community so special.”
The couple enjoys seeking out public art whenever they travel to other Southern California cities or other states. According to Sullivan and Sommer, Laguna Beach is the only Orange County city that compares to Brea in terms of public art. However, the couple said that Laguna Beach differs because it has “more money and less space for big businesses.”
According to the Laguna Beach Visitors website, there are 79 pieces of public art in their collection—nearly 100 fewer pieces than Brea’s collection. The city’s policy also differs from Brea’s in its requirements. Developers with property worth $225,000 or more must create art that is worth at least 1 percent of the total value.
Newport Beach does not have a public art program similar to Brea’s, but it does have its Sculpture in Civic Center Park Exhibition, which welcomed nine new pieces on Oct. 28. This changing collection features pieces by local artists which are curated by a committee and returned to the artist after about two years, according to the city website.
While Colacion said the city’s limited resources prevent the APP Advisory Committee from creating new ways to promote the program, she said residents like Sullivan and Sommer help the APP program to “remain a strong priority of the city.” Sullivan and Sommer plan to continue their “adventure” through the APP program, which Sommer calls “Brea’s pearl necklace.”
“We’re trying to be evangelicals for the program. People in the city of Brea don’t have any idea that this program exists,” Sullivan said. “The art is hiding in plain sight. We’re trying to educate people.”
Emiko Kaneoka is a student journalist at Chapman University participating in the Voice of OC Youth Media program.