CIVIC CENTER — “Chain Reaction,” a mushroom cloud-shaped sculpture in Santa Monica’s Civic Center, will need a guardian angel with a lot of cash if it hopes to remain in place through the end of 2012.

Both the Arts Commission and Public Art Committee voted Wednesday night to recommend that the City Council allow a six-month window for the public or another donor to raise the nearly $425,000 that may be necessary to test and repair the sculpture before allowing staff to deaccession the work.

The recommendation will be taken up by the City Council at the end of March, at which point elected officials will decide whether the anti-nuclear message embodied by the work outweighs potential public safety concerns should the piece fall.

“Chain Reaction,” a 26-foot tall monumental sculpture designed by Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Paul Conrad, was donated to Santa Monica in 1988 and accepted by the City Council in 1990 after an extensive public process.

Testing conducted over the summer by conservationist Rosa Lowinger and engineering team Larry Bruegger revealed structural weaknesses and corrosion to the inner steel structure from exposure to wet conditions and salty sea air.

The fiberglass frame that supports thousands of copper chain links also had damage, and no one can determine how long it will last, said Jessica Cusick, cultural affairs manager for City Hall.

The amount of money in question, however, is quadruple that last awarded for the maintenance of Santa Monica’s public art collection in 2008. That money went to repair four pieces of art.

The high end of the estimate — which ranges from $227,372 to $423,172 — is more than all of our grants together, Cusick said.

“The range is extensive because of all of the unknowns,” Cusick said.

Funding hasn’t gotten any easier, particularly with the dissolution of California’s redevelopment agencies, tax-funded creations that helped fight blight by paying for construction projects and art.

A California Supreme Court decision led to the invalidation of the agencies, which officially ceased to exist the same day that the arts officials considered “Chain Reaction.”

Commissioners and committee members expressed varying degrees of appreciation for the sculpture, which the activist community prizes for its anti-nuclear message.

On the face of it, “Chain Reaction” may hold most of its value for what it represents, rather than as a piece of artwork that City Hall should spend money to rehabilitate, said Walter Meyer, vice chair of the Arts Commission.

The sculpture is neither representative of Conrad’s famous and prized work in the cartooning field, nor is it the best example of his attempts in the field of small bronze sculptures, Meyer pointed out.

“I think the artwork is being asked to stand in for a larger political discussion,” Meyer said.

While testing and potential reconstruction might not be a best use of the limited arts budget, the two bodies were loathe to cut off all avenues to keep the work in place.

Should the City Council approve the concept, Arts Commission Chair Michael Myers volunteered to spearhead fundraising the money needed to save “Chain Reaction.”

He and the rest of the community will have six months to do so before staff offer the sculpture back to the artist’s family or proceed with the deaccession process, which involves documenting and cataloguing the piece.

Local activist Jerry Rubin, who started the Save Our Sculpture campaign in support of the piece, offered Myers $20 on the spot.

Only $423,152 to go.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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