50-foot floating sculpture to land in Lake Tahoe this summer

Claire Cudahy

A 50-by-25-foot floating sculpture digitally depicting data on the climate-related threats to Lake Tahoe will be docked off two beaches this August — a titanic sign that the art scene on the South Shore is gaining momentum.

Entitled LAKA LELUP, the temporary exhibit is the brainchild of Mia Hanak, executive director of the nonprofit Tahoe Public Art (TPA).

“The goal with Tahoe Public Art is to enhance the cultural landscape of Tahoe by doing these installations that are inspired by the Lake Tahoe Basin and designed to help promote environmental preservation efforts around the lake,” said Hanak, who spent the 10 years prior to joining TPA in 2016 creating environmental art installations around the world for the United Nations.

LAKA LELUP is a Washoe term for coming together, according to Hanak, and a fitting name given the piece has been a collaboration between data visualization artists, architects, engineers and other community groups.

“We are working with the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center for all the data sets they’ve been collecting since the ‘60s and identifying data that talks about the lake temperature, the lake mixing, and the things that could ultimately trigger some of these climate-based reactions in the lake,” said Hanak.

Hanak has also worked with the Washoe Tribe to incorporate indigenous knowledge about the region into what she describes as “data-driven storytelling.”

The solar-powered floating installation will be tethered to the shore and feature stacked hexagonal tubes with LED panels and two-way polycarbonate mirrors.

By day, the sculpture’s mirrors will reflect the natural environment while chirps and calls from Lake Tahoe’s endangered species, Washoe music and spoken word, and musical scores play from the speakers.

At night, from 9 – 11 p.m., an hour-long multimedia show will loop twice, telling the story of Lake Tahoe’s environmental challenges through the artistic interpretation of selected artists.

“We really want to encourage people to kayak or paddleboard out to it,” said Hanak. “There is also a way for the public to interact. All the different data visualizations that appear on the sculpture are also accessible in real-time on your mobile devices. You can actually log on to our website and find out more information about the data that you’re seeing in real time.”

Viewers can also learn about what they can do to help preserve Lake Tahoe and take a pledge to commit to these practices.

The project is still campaigning for the remainder of its funding, which comes from a combination of individual contributions, grants and sponsorships.

LAKA LELUP will be floating near Commons Beach in Tahoe City from Aug. 4 – 13 and Ski Run Marina and Beach in South Lake Tahoe from Aug. 22 – 31.


Hanak says the floating sculpture is just the beginning for TPA.

“We’ve been creating a new long-term plan and vision for Tahoe Public Art to bring temporary public art installations around the lake and create an annual sculpture festival that will unveil in 2018 and beyond,” said Hanak.

The organization will be sending out requests for proposals to local, regional and world-renowned artists.

Other agencies are starting to work toward a more organized, collaborative approach to developing Lake Tahoe’s South Shore as a cultural destination.

El Dorado Arts Council is preparing to release its countywide cultural plan toward the end of May after a nine-month study of the region’s needs.

“My understanding is that there has never been a cultural plan for El Dorado County, and we’re really excited about this effort,” said Terry LeMoncheck, executive director of the council.

“One of the top findings that came out of the study is that there is not a deep concentration of the fine arts in El Dorado County,” continued LeMoncheck, who noted that the implementation of the plan will require more fundraising.

The plan includes suggestions such as the creation of a mural program and acquisition of a van or bus to host a mobile STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art/design and mathematics) program for kids.

For the first time in many years, Lake Tahoe has representation on the council’s primarily West Slope-based board of directors.

“They say I’ve breached the granite wall,” said Carl Ribaudo, founder of the tourism consulting firm SMG Consulting and a new arts council board member.

“I’m a big believer in the arts and culture, not just from a local standpoint, but I think it is important to make the destination well-rounded and more interesting for tourists,” said Ribaudo, pointing to Santa Cruz, California; Aspen, Colorado; and Bend, Oregon as good examples of art-driven destinations.

“I look at every surface as an artistic opportunity for somebody. Every empty fence, every side of a building could be a mural or a political statement.”

Ribaudo noted that the approval process for community art in most municipalities is “challenging,” and if cities want to enhance their cultural landscapes, they must create “enabling legislation.”

“I love what we’ve done with painting the electric boxes, but there should be so much more. It’s never been a priority — and I’m not blaming anybody,” continued Ribaudo. “But I think it’s becoming more of an interest and a priority with the community.”


Another local arts group is gearing up to implement a master plan for the South Shore that was created over 20 years ago.

“Ninety percent of that plan is still valid today,” said Robert Schimmel, host of the weekly KOWL AM 1490 radio show Lake Tahoe Art Scene and one of the founding members of the bi-state Tahoe Arts Alliance (TAA).

For a variety of reasons, the plan that was commissioned by the now-dissolved Tahoe Regional Arts Council was never implemented — something the new organization, which just secured its nonprofit status in both California and Nevada a few months ago, plans to change.

“We want more consolidated communication, networking and mutual support amongst the arts,” said Schimmel, who said he’s encouraged by what he is already seeing on the South Shore and around the lake.

“There’s a lot of good signs. The Truckee Arts Alliance started and is virtually on the same page as we are down here. A lot of artist cooperative galleries have been opening up around the lake,” he added.

Schimmel pointed to programming put on by the Tahoe Art League as well as projects spearheaded by the city of South Lake Tahoe like the incoming bronze statue set to go in Champions Plaza in Lakeview Commons and the art gallery TAA is helping to fill in the newly renovated Lake Tahoe Airport.

“They have finally reached back to all the reaching out that I and others have done over the years, and it looks like the city is becoming more aware of what it can do,” noted Schimmel.

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