Downtown Berkeley BART to feature light shows and ‘soundscapes’ at opening

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Dani Sundell/Senior Staff

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When the Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza reopens, Berkeley residents will witness new “soundscapes,” light shows and art galleries — some of the final products of the $7.6 million renovation.

In addition to these new features, Berkeley City Council will decide at its regular meeting Tuesday whether to fund additional art and cultural programs for the opening of the plaza currently planned for this spring.

The proposed programs provide for two food vendors at the plaza for one year and will establish a $50,000 contract with the Downtown Berkeley Association, or DBA, for organizing performances at the plaza for its opening week.

“This is one of the biggest public space projects in our generation,” said CEO of DBA John Caner. “It’s important to have a good initial kickoff and activation of it.”

The Downtown Berkeley BART entrance on Shattuck Avenue and Center Street closed in August 2017.

The plaza renovation has been in the works for eight years, according to Caner. When the plaza reopens, it will feature eight light and sound poles, which will provide professional music studio-level sound to create “soundscapes,” according to Mary Ann Merker, civic arts coordinator of the Berkeley Civic Arts Commission. Matthew Jervis, director of vitality at DBA, said the poles can also beam light against nearby buildings.

Caner said the activation plan will make the plaza a “public space.” Berkeley artists will be able to apply to use the venue through an online platform, according to Jervis.

The plaza will also host an open sculpture gallery, with pieces changing about every 10 months. Berkeley artist Michael Christian’s 14-foot large globe sculpture “Home” will be the first to be displayed.

The Berkeley Civic Arts Commission will give DBA $10,000 for the opening performances, while the proposal before City Council currently states that the council will fund DBA “an amount not to exceed $50,000, and (authorize) renewal of that contract for up to two years, for a total amount not to exceed $150,000.”

According to Merker, the $50,000 allotted for DBA will allow the commission to organize additional future performances at the plaza. This way, Merker said, the commission would not have to take the time to request permission from the city again in another agenda item before funding future projects.

DBA will commit $50,000 of its own funds toward the project, Caner said.

The new plaza will also fit more than a hundred people, which is more than it could previously, according to Rebecca Saltzman, president of the BART Board of Directors. BART is aiming to open the plaza by the spring, but the project could experience delays due to weather, Saltzman added.

Saltzman is “fully supportive” of the proposed funding plan, saying she wants to see the space activated.

City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he would support a changed version of the item that reduces the money given to DBA to $10,000 from $50,000.

Groups in South and West Berkeley fight for as little as $3,000 for festivals, according to Worthington, while Downtown Berkeley receives a “dramatically” high percentage of arts funding.

“As a matter of fairness, the money needs to be spread more equitably across the city,” Worthington said.

Contact Henry Tolchard at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @htolchard.

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