A three-dimensional, 304-acre canvas — when it comes to public art that is how California State University San Marcos can be described.

The purpose of public art at CSUSM is to present the campus community and the region with art projects that engage the senses and intellect in publicly accessible areas of the campus.

“Some of our pieces are inspiring, some provoke conversation and some are amusing,” says Neal Hoss, vice president for University Advancement and member of the Campus Public Art Advisory Group.

CSUSM President Karen Haynes formed the Campus Public Art Advisory Group (CPAAG) in 2008 to oversee the acquisition and placement of public art on campus. The committee is comprised of University faculty and administrators, a student and community members.

Visual & Performing Arts Professor David Avalos is one of the members of CPAAG and truly appreciates the value and importance of public art.

“To me public art is a community endeavor,” said Avalos. “It is a form of art that is available and accessible to everyone. Public art provides an invitation to explore our values. It can speak to what is important to us.”

Avalos points to the statue of farm labor organizer and civil rights activist César Chávez as an example of a piece that has deep meaning for the campus and surrounding community. Great care was taken by the artists T.J.Dixon and James Nelson in selecting the site of the statue which sits atop four flights of stairs leading to campus. Just below the statue is the phrase, “Sí Se Puede. It Can Be Done.”

“I’ve had numerous discussions with students about this statue,” said Avalos. “They see it at the top of stairs and they relate to their own struggles and journey. The statue is a part of the life of the University.”

Fittingly, the first public art piece on campus was a class project. “Learning and Instruction” is a required class for students working toward a teaching credential in the State of California. In 1995, Professor Merryl Goldberg planned a mural project for this course that was designed to engage the students in creating an educational philosophy, then representing and communicating that philosophy.

“I originally planned the mural project as a learning-through-the-arts experience for the students of the Credential Arts Cohort, hoping that through the design and production of a mural the students would learn something about educational philosophy as well as techniques related to painting,” said Goldberg. “It served as a method to explore educational philosophy, as an arena to learn something about the arts, and as a forum for experiencing cooperative group work.”

The outcome was a 50-foot mural with five panels depicting themes related to the University mission statement and qualities important to teaching: dreams, traditions, diversity, environment and technology.

The most recent public art installation is a whimsical piece called Noodledoodle designed by artist Fritzie Urquhart. The piece, a giant replica of a children’s wire and bead toy, is most appropriately placed in front of the Center for Children and Families. “Noodledoodle” was donated by the Wolfstein family who also contributed another new addition to the CSUSM public art canvas, “Ladder to the World,” which is located near Chavez Circle.

The growth of public art on campus will come through the generous contributions of donors such as the Wolfstein family. All of the public art pieces on campus have been made possible by individual donors or groups and organizations that have raised the funds for the art pieces. The Hispanic Advisory Council initiated the fundraising campaign that paid for the César Chávez statue, CSUSM’s Native American Council commissioned the bronze sculpture mountain lion named “Tukwut,” and an anonymous donor provided the funds for the “Focus” sculpture located in Craven Circle.

As the canvas that is CSUSM begins to fill in with new public art pieces, the campus community and the region will have many new opportunities  to share a common art experience, whether it is thought provoking, inspirational or purely aesthetic.


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Focus, a sculpture by Robert Freeman

Tukwut, a sculpture by Robert Freeman

Ladder to the World, a sculpture by Jeffrey Laudenslager

Noodle Doodle, a sculpture by Fritzie Urquhart

The Brittany Huerta Wall of Hope, Dreams and Imagination, a mural by Marilyn Huerta