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Santa Barbara’s Chromatic Gate Sculpture Shining Again

Supporters gather near the waterfront to celebrate the restoration effort of the iconic rainbow artwork by Herbert Bayer

The beleaguered Chromatic Gate sculpture near Santa Barbara’s waterfront finally got some love on Monday, as several hundred people gathered around it to check out its restored appearance and celebrate the changes.

The Chromatic Gate, originally installed in 1991, was designed by renowned artist Herbert Bayer, and sits on the corner of Cabrillo Boulevard and Calle Puerto Vallarta.

The gate was last painted in 2000, when funding for the maintenance of the sculpture ran out.

Exposure to corrosive salt air and the elements had rusted the gate and faded its once vivid colors.

The renovation project hit a snag last year when it was discovered that the paints originally used in the sculpture no longer met environmental standards, and the colors needed to be specifically matched.

Navigating the process of private contractors working with the city and county also proved time consuming.

Funding was raised in 2012 through the efforts of the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission and the Restore Our Rainbow Committee, the Arts Fund Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara Beautiful Inc., along with other efforts and donors.

Monday was a time to celebrate, and Santa Barbara County Arts Commission Executive Director Ginny Brush welcomed attendants.

“This sculpture is not everyone’s cup of tea,” Brush said, but added that the community rallied to restore it to its full glory.

The project’s fundraising “languished,” Brush said, until some large contributions kick-started the effort, and a public fund has been created to contribute to ongoing maintenance.

A handful of City Council members attended Monday’s event, along with Mayor Helene Schneider.

Conjuring up the lyrics to Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection,” Schneider talked about the value of the sculpture to the community.

“It really is a conversation piece. ... That’s the beauty of public art,” she said.

Before the improvements, weather and the elements had taken their toll on Bayer’s sculpture, with rust becoming a huge issue.

“It was really gross looking. ... It was not a tribute,” she said.

City Poet Laureate Chryss Yost also read a poem she created for the occasion, and said she was inspired by learning about Bayer’s travel to Morocco, where he reportedly saw gates marking dunes in the desert.

The memorial was built for the oil company ARCO, which donated the sculpture and the portion of the park where it sits.

Mike Mills also spoke about his father, Paul, who helped get the sculpture raised.

Rita Ferri, visual arts coordinator for the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission, said she hoped Bayer, Mills and architect Barry Berkus, who passed away last year, were “smiling down on us today.”

Ferry said she had received multiple emails from people saying they could do the work themselves. But since the process involved with getting the monument restored was an arduous one, with permits, cleaning the sculpture and painting along with unpredictable weather pushing the finished sculpture back, the professionals had to be called in.

“No, you and your can of paint and stepladder would not have gotten the job done,” she said.

An updated marble plaque with all of the project’s donors will be installed, Brush said.

Parks & Recreation Director Nancy Rapp said park staff have been working to make small changes at the Cabrillo Ballfield, including working on the landscaping, that will add to the sculpture.

Rapp said her department will continue to work on the city’s parks to re-energize them and “truly serve the Santa Barbara community.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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