The near unanimous City Council vote to support and fund the restoration of “Chain Reaction” was a responsible and positive vote indeed, and the city manager and city staff recommendation of support was the right and responsible decision.
The 26-foot-tall nuclear mushroom cloud sculpture was designed by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Paul Conrad. Mr. Conrad gifted the public art peace sculpture to the city through a $250,000 philanthropic anonymous donation. We now know that donation was made by Joan Kroc, the late San Diego philanthropist, nuclear abolition proponent and widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. The City Council voted in 1990 to accept the gift and it was completed in 1991. I have heard from construction experts that, given inflation and rising construction costs, if “Chain Reaction” were to have been constructed and gifted today, it could easily have required a $700,000 philanthropic contribution.
Although there was very little maintenance since, there now are more positive maintenance strategies available, as well as organizations that promote and advocate for outdoor public art and its upkeep. Somehow the unfortunate “first to go” cutting of art and culture budgets and programs in cities and schools throughout America is standard practice. But we can do better, and our city has been an art and artist-friendly leader for quite some time. When some people criticized Santa Monica for spending more than $600,000 for the recent GLOW art event on the beach, I strongly disagreed. Although it is a one-night art show once every few years, GLOW is a wonderful and creative multi-faceted art extravaganza that has a profound effect on stimulating interest in and appreciation of art, and was worth every penny. There always will be some disagreement about various aspects of specific art pieces, programs or projects, but it seems to me that you can’t go wrong when you make a commitment to substantially increase funding for art and art maintenance.
The restoration of “Chain Reaction” is also worth the funding costs, as substantial as they may be. It should be noted that there has been expert input stating “Chain Reaction” could very well be repaired and restored for no more than the $100,000 the Conrad family and community have raised this past year. But everyone wants the job to be done respectfully and done well. The city has shown a positive and true commitment by voting to supplement private donations with any necessary city funds. The city has also responsibly agreed to fund a landscape barrier around the sculpture, possibly a “peace garden” comprised of sustainable native plants.
“Chain Reaction” is not simply a sculpture of a bowl of fruit. It is a thought provoking, educational and positive enhancement of dialogue and civil debate. It was meant as a symbol of peace and as a warning monument as to the dangers of nuclear escalation. But, people can disagree with the unique sculpture’s message and/or its aesthetics. Good art can serve education just as good education can serve art.
The threat of nuclear devastation is still a major concern for our planet. We must find ways to promote peace in our communities and worldwide. We must work towards a goal of eliminating nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. Conrad’s inscribed warning at the base of “Chain Reaction” reads: “This is a statement of peace. May it never become an epitaph.” It has been said that war is costly but peace is priceless. On that merit alone, the cost of restoration is well worth it!
Certainly the Conrad family and the Save Chain Reaction team have shown that the iconic sculpture has substantial and broad-based community support. There are community leaders and residents who disagree on numerous issues who have all joined together to support the timely restoration. More than 3,800 individuals signed the online support petition. And hundreds contributed to the more than $100,000 in private donations. The list of creative and dedicated individual supporters and groups is quite impressive. I do recommend you visit the website at SaveChainReaction.com to look at the list because I’m certainly not going to be able to list them all here.
Finally, there is another important reason why the City Council and city staff made the right and responsible decision. This year marks the first year Santa Monica has added art as one of the city’s sustainability goals. It was a creative thing to add art to our other goals. How many cities would even think of including art as a goal of sustainability, let alone even have an Office of Sustainability or a Sustainable City Plan?
For the positive aspects of supporting art, landmarks and peace, as well as acknowledging the Conrad family and community’s outreach and fundraising efforts, our City Council and city staff have made, not a wasteful or foolish decision as some have suggested, but a decision that is very supportive, responsible and pro-Santa Monica.
Rubin is a longtime peace activist and Santa Monica resident. He is a co-founder of the Save Chain Reaction campaign.