Berkeley’s downtown BART is all roses as part of clean-up

Artist Deborah O’Grady created panels with images of roses and poetry in Berkeley’s downtown BART station. Photo: courtesy Deborah O’Grady

A new art piece featuring garden-inspired photography has been installed in the windows of the Downtown Berkeley BART station entrance. The project, called the Rose Pavilion, was unveiled on Monday afternoon and is part of the continuing efforts to revitalize Berkeley’s downtown area.

The piece features vertical panels of faux stained glass with images of roses and excerpts of poetry. Artist Deborah O’Grady explains that she was inspired by the architecture of the BART station. “I was asked if I could find a way to bring the garden into the center of the city. At first, I wasn’t sure, but as I walked around the downtown I was struck by the BART entrance pavilion. I decided to turn it into a rose arbor.”

The project is a collaboration between BART, UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, and the Downtown Berkeley Association. It is part of a larger exhibition at the Botanical Garden called “Natural Discourse,” which features work by 17 artists, poets, and scientists. “We came together to convey poetry and the beauty of the garden in a variety of mediums,” O’Grady says. For her, inspiration came in the form of roses: “Roses are a source of beauty and spirituality, a food, and a transmitter of light.”

As part of the sprucing up of downtown, a Welcome Kiosk now greets visitors at BART Plaza. Photo: Hannah Long

John Caner, Executive Director of the Downtown Berkeley Association, voiced his enthusiasm for the project at Monday’s unveiling: “We are very proud of the downtown’s art district, and we would really like to see an increased amount of visual art. This project is about the beautification of the culturally rich and diverse downtown.”

The installation is one of a series of projects designed to clean up the downtown area; others include landscaping, graffiti removal, and painting. Caner hopes the Rose Pavilion installation will increase business in Berkeley by attracting tourists to the area: “We hope that this amazing installation becomes a must-see destination within the BART system.”

As part of the drive to attract more visitors, Visit Berkeley, the city’s tourism information center and film production office recently opened a more visible storefront suite at its location at 2030 Addison.

New plants around the BART Plaza. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

BART Plaza has been a particular focus for the efforts to rejuvenate downtown which were kickstarted after the area became a property-based improvement district last year. Hospitality ambassadors and the police have been working to help homeless people and transients who have historically tended to congregate there, new seating and planters have been installed, the area has been wifi-enabled and is being kept clean as part of the $1.2 million “Big Splash” project. The DBA also recently erected a Welcome Kiosk on the downtown Plaza designed to be a first port of call for visitors arriving in the city via downtown; a Musicians’ Corner was launched this week; and there are proposals to install “Piazza” canopy lighting and café seating.

While many Berkeleyans will doubtless admire O’Grady’s artistic skill, at least one local resident at Monday’s unveiling questioned the city’s clean-up plan. Richard Santos, who works in downtown Berkeley, said: “There is so much need here in Berkeley. The problems are so large, and beautification is not enough.”

Downtown Berkeley ambassadors help, monitor homeless
Newly cleaned up downtown hopes to attract more retail [04.04.12]
After seven years Berkeley gets a new downtown plan [03.21.12]
Taller buildings, open spaces on cards for downtown Berkeley [03.09.12]
The big clean-up of downtown Berkeley begins [01.10.12]
How to improve downtown Berkeley: Have your say [10.19.11]
Downtown PBID passes overwhelmingly [06.29.11]

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  • The Sharkey

    A minor technical correction – the photographic panels are printed to resemble stained glass, but are not true stained glass windows.

  • Biker 94703

    I think a “must-see destination within the BART system” is taking it a bit far, but the rotunda does look rather nice now.  Its always been a bit dingy and neglected.  A bit of color is appreciated now that the summer fog has come.

    Some of the art at the Botanical Garden is rather nice too.  Too bad there is no shuttle to get there.  No wait, too bad that the mostly-empty UC / Lab shuttles that endlessly cycle through don’t pick up UC visitors.

  • panoramia

    Will there be future open calls for local Berkeley artists , NOT affiliated with the University to showcase their work to the community? 

  • Guest

    Will they add some type of trompe l’oeil perfume effect to mask the persistent odor of human waste in the rotunda?

  • You’re right. I’ve added the word “faux”. Trust that covers it.

  • Chris

    Some thoughtful steps in the right direction!

  • Guest

    This is great.  Now the BART rotunda is going to be wonderful to stroll by!!!

  • Bill N

    I certainly agree with Mr Santos “There is so much need here in Berkeley. The problems are so large, and beautification is not enough” but you have to start somewhere and the cleanup and work being done is a good a place as any.

  • 4Eenie

    I might just skip the Ashby BART station one day after work and continue on to the Downtown station just to see this! It looks really nice.

  • guest

    Too bad that Friends of the Rose Garden celebrating the 75th year anniversary of the Berkeley Rose Garden, a WPA project, was not consulted or included.

  • Rick Betita

    It would be great if the pavilion served as a rotating art piece, giving local Berkeley artists a platform to showcase their work and commuters a change of scenery on a weekly or monthly basis.

  • Lou

    Beautification? I dunno. I had my first encounter with one of the silly hanging planters while walking Shattuck near University – smack in the side of my head! Busily in conversation, I ran right into one of them and it was not beautiful I’m just over six feet, and the florwrpot was at eye level. Who plans this sh*t?

  • Kjackattack

    That guy in the pic with red hair is in that Local Rock & Roll band,The Whatsitwhos!

  • another BUSD parent

    It looks really nice from the inside AND the outside. The aroma, not so nice. Can’t wait to vote re sit/lie!

  • fellow berkeleyan

    The artists in the show are not affiliated with the University – just to be clear.

  • panoramia

     Perhaps not, my mistake…The article does note that this is a collaborative effort and an extention of an existing exhibtion at UCBG.  Although I don’t thoroughly understand how an Artwork has been commissioned in a public space, by a public agency without an open call for submission. This is common practice. All Art for Bart stations is publicly posted on their site or on the SF Arts commission website, indicating the budget etc. How is it then that an artist was commissioned to create and fabricate an artwork without public knowledge, for a public space? Furthermore if this is being paid for by or in part out of the city’s or BART’s budget this has to be made public. These recent ” art-driven ” projects by the city of Berkeley / Downtown Berkeley Association are highly suspect in the way in which Artists are chosen, an Artwork is fabricated and installed seemingly overnight. This is part of another exhibit and may have been in the works for a long time, but I do hope this will not set a precedent for creating unfair & inside opportunities.

  • fellow berkeleyan

    Natural Discourse was proposed to UCBG by independent curators.  Artists were invited by them to participate.  No BART or City funds went into the creation of the works.  Permanent works of art in public spaces are vetted in the way you suggest but not temporary ones.  

  • Guest

    One of the directors of the of the (Downtown Business Association) DBA is a UC vice chancellor and the artist is listed as a donor on the UC Botanical Garden website. It seems as if UC and DBA are instituted a pay to play art scene in Berkeley? Nice art, bad practice. The Botanical gardens are wonderful and it great BART is funding art, but public spaces require proper protocol. The University does not drive the Berkeley Art Scene.

  • anon

    Yeah…. about that: walked by yesterday, kids hanging out, sewing (!), relaxing, chatting with friends… POliceman comes along and starts harassing them, asking which bags belong to who, multiple questions about dogs… suddenly the peaceful scene turns into angry energy. 
    I can see what people are upset about… but I don’t think it’s just about young people hanging out.
    There’s more going on here.

  • panoramia

    Yes, they are… A fellow artist Owen Smith designed these ” temporary ” posters for Bart The call was an open, all inclusive call for Artists clearly posted well in advance on the SFArts Commission website and on Bart’s
    website. This is how public art is requested and commissioned :  Berkeley Civic Art Commission does not even post their agenda or discussed topics until AFTER they are discussed. This type of behavior affects all artists, who despite common conjecture make a living creating artwork. Some of the most lucrative contracts for artists or artist teams are in fact public art commissions. When these are unfairly awarded to artists or awarded to artists without appropriate compensation all artists suffer. Having one’s art displayed in such a prominent area / being covered by the press is a coup for this artist or any that would have been chosen. I hope that future projects in the Downtown Berkeley area are made accessible to the entire local Berkeley Arts community.

  • panoramia

     great idea!

  • sky

    Don’t hold your breath.

  • Biker 94703

    On a lark I tried to find this low-hanging planter today but failed.  What’s the address?  I thought they were silly when I first saw them (and thought city facilities was going to let them die), but flowered out they really please the eye.

  • Lou

    Well, I walked there again yesterday and it isn’t the planter, just a few low hanging branches on the corner of Shattuck, south across from Oscar’s. But now they are installing more handicapped bumps so I didn’t run into the plant, as I was detouring around the orange fences! Couldn’t help noticing that all the wheelchair scooters were quite happy with a wooden ramps nailed to a 2×4, to get around the construction. It is a different topic, but why do they put those yellow bumpy things there?

  • Guest

    Apropos of this earlier suggestion in today’s news:

    SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Bay Area Rapid Transit users have all experienced it; escalators that are down at their station. But what’s really behind the maintenance issues for the transit agency?
    Officials said one of the main issues is the copious amounts of human excrement found in the escalator’s works, gumming up the wheels and gears. The bottom of BART’s stairwells often act as prime spots for the homeless to take shelter at night and in many cases, relieve themselves.

    Last month, work crews opened up the broken BART escalator at San Francisco’s Civic Center Station and found so much human waste that they had to call in a hazardous-materials team.
    BART police said there is little they can do about the problem as officers have to witness someone in the act to issue a citation.

  • Anonymous

    Lovely.  A shame I won’t see them because I swore off the Berkeley BART stop after my experience last Saturday.  I expected the upper elevator to smell of urine since it opens on the street and can easily be used as a toilet, but the lower elevator absolutely reeked of urine and was black with dried footprints.  I won’t chance that miasma again.

  • Rose pavilion so thats what its called! Ever since they put this up I have been over joyed! Our Station used to be kinda ugly of course with all the Metro PCS ads they put up recently its becoming ugly again. I think this is such a cool instillation and have taken many photos of it and made prints of them. When i go to the BART station sometimes i see people looking up at it and taking their own pictures people are truly fascinated by this piece of Art and i hope it never gets taken down. Not even embarcadero Station has something like this. It would be fun to see something similar done at North Berkeley station too. That station is starting to look run down and could use something to liven it up.