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New public art greets downtown visitors

ENCINITAS — A crowd of enthusiastic residents and city officials were on hand as the Downtown Encinitas Mainstreet Association officially dedicated a work of public art on Jan. 29.
The bronze statue, known as “Encinitas Child,” was commissioned four years ago to commemorate the organization’s 20th anniversary serving the merchants of the downtown area.
Nationally renowned artist and longtime Encinitas resident Manuelita Brown said the likeness of the young girl waving her hand represents a “universality of experience.”
“She’s wearing shorts, a T-shirt, and flip flops, which crosses gender and economic lines,” Brown said. Her wave is welcoming to those who enter the city along Coast Highway 101 just south of Encinitas Boulevard.
“The statue is intended to convey they are entering a place where they are welcomed with a relaxed atmosphere that is unpretentious,” Brown said.
While Brown kept the features of the young girl generic, others interpreted the statue as a tribute to Paula Lou Smith, who was killed by a driver while riding her bicycle at that very intersection while crossing the street in 1967.
“I think the statue is a wonderful thing,” said Art Smith, Paula’s brother who flew in from Olympia, Wash., for the dedication. “I’m overwhelmed, this is closure for me,” he said looking up at the bronze figure with tears in his eyes. “I know that’s not her, but in a way it is. She was an Encinitas child.”
Mayor Dan Dalager recalled the tragic death of the middle school student just days before the Encinitas Boulevard freeway underpass was completed. “There are different interpretations of art and in this I see a guardian angel downtown,” Dalager said.
Peder Norby, the association’s executive director at the time of the commission, joined current Executive Director Dody Tucker in the dedication ceremony. The group raised $28,000 through private donations, county, city and foundation grants to fund the project.
“One of the key elements of the success of downtown is the proliferation of art,” Norby said. “We have the banners, a lot of unique artists, art hanging in downtown businesses and restaurants and we wanted to give the city a gift of public art.”
Each piece of art in the public sphere is received differently. Norby said that going through the art commission was paramount in creating a successful partnership. “The statue is touching people in many ways,” he said. “That’s what public art is supposed to do.”
Brown, who is known for both her private commissions and her high-profile public art, such as the “Triton” at UC San Diego and “Almas de Mar” at the University Town Center in La Jolla, said she has received good feedback so far about the “Encinitas Child” statue. “I’m hoping it will be warmly received,” she said.