The circular stone seating area and viewpoint near the northeast corner of the Park was completed as a work of public art entitled “Opening Circle” or “Open Circle” in 2011. Jeffrey Reed and Jennifer Madden were the artists. The work was funded by the Open Circle Foundation headed by Dorothy Weicker, and produced jointly with the City of Berkeley Public Art Program. It is the fourth work of public art in the park, joining the Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar high on the western ridge, “Sky Window,”the blue steel sculpture on the west side path, and the peace sign on the northwest hilltop.
The stylish laid-back stonework offers a rustic seating circle for groups of up to about twenty. It was designed in part as an outdoor classroom, a unique and perfectly located site in the park for public education about birds, other wildlife, Bay conservation, and related issues. The place is the prime viewpoint on the park’s eastern shore, with clear vistas over the entire North Basin and parts of the northern Bay. Picnic areas with tables and BBQ boxes are about a hundred yards away.
The Opening Circle seating area is a great bird observatory. It sits on a small promontory that creates a bit of shelter on either side. In addition to gulls and American Coots, I’ve seen Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Common Goldeneye, Black Turnstone, and Double-crested Cormorant perched on the rocks here. A little Black Phoebe can frequently be spotted on the stonework. From this excellent observatory you may see the whole diversity of waterbirds that visit the North Basin. At low tide there’s no better place to watch the small army of Marbled Godwits, Sandpipers, Black Oystercatchers, and other shorebirds that work the mud and the rocks. The circle would also be a great spot from which to view Burrowing Owls if the circle were made accessible during the winter months when owls are present. As it is, the owl observer must step over the closed gate to get an accurate owl perspective.
Jennifer Madden and Reed collaborated on another public art installation in Palo Alto in 2003. Entitled “Sunflower,” it features lofty metal umbrellas in the shape of blossoms over outdoor cafe tables, located at 440 S. California Ave near Mimosa Lane. Solar panels hidden in the blossoms power lights at night. It was commissioned by the Public Art Commission and funded by the City of Palo Alto, the City of Palo Alto Utilities, and the California Avenue Area Development Association (CAADA). Its dedication reads, “Inspired by nature, and powered by wind and sun, this sculptural seating area combines art, function, and energy efficiency.” The artists are a married couple and maintain a web site at www.ReedMadden.com
The Open Circle Foundation originated when Dorothy Weicker, then an American philosophy student at the University of Edinburgh, purchased a life-size sculpture, possibly this one of a man and a woman, by the Spanish artist Antonio Lopez Garcia, who was then (1975) virtually unknown. Daughter of a well-off family, she paid $100,000. Twenty-five years later, Lopez Garcia had achieved great fame and the Spanish government declared his works “national treasures,” prohibiting their export from Spain. A Spanish petroleum company paid Weicker one million dollars for the work, which the firm then donated for permanent exhibit in the national art museum in Madrid. Weicker resolved to dedicate the money she was paid to supporting artists and art projects in the U.S., and formed the Open Circle Foundation for that purpose. She set up her foundation in a close relationship with the East Bay Community Foundation.
An illustrated 40-page monograph about the Open Circle Foundation and its numerous grants is available as a PDF on the web here. In regard to the Opening Circle (aka “Open Circle”) artwork in the Park, the publication says:
In 2009-2010, several East Bay cities significantly cut or scaled back their arts funding. OCF saw this as an opportunity to support local artists and made a grant to the City of Berkeley.
With the City of Berkeley and the Audubon Society, artists Jeffrey Reed and Jennifer Madden created an “Open Circle” installation and environmental artwork featured at the Berkeley Marina in Winter 2010. Their art created destination areas for viewing habitats and wildlife, an outdoor classroom, and an educational walking tour, while respecting the part-time home of the Burrowing Owl.
The installation also includes concrete fencing along the paved perimeter trail, a paved circular walkway, and another, smaller seating area to the north.
Weicker’s foundation granted the City $100,000 for the project. The City contributed an additional $5,000 for materials. The City of Berkeley’s Public Arts Commission published a detailed proposal for the work and a call for artists to apply in January 2009. The committee to select the artists consisted of two members of the Open Circle Foundation, two members of the City of Berkeley’s Civic Arts Commission, one from the Waterfront Commission (which at that time had jurisdiction over the Park), one from the Golden Gate Audubon Society, and a community member who was a park user. A City of Berkeley description of the work in progress is here. An opening celebration was held at the site on July 14, 2011.
Currently, Park management closes the main Open Circle seating and viewing area to the public during the winter months (and sometimes all year) by enclosing it inside the decorative fence that’s meant to protect the Burrowing Owls. In my opinion that policy merits reconsideration. The fence ought to be relocated a few yards to the north so that access to this excellent birding viewpoint and outdoor classroom remains open to the public year round. A memo on this topic is available here.