Artwork coming to Water Street?

With a flush of funding and a city-approved master plan, Petaluma's Public Art Committee is exploring an opportunity to install communal artwork along a swath of the city's central waterway.

The committee held a public art forum last Saturday to help define what could be the city's first public arts project on the Petaluma River. The creative brainstorming session was inspired by installations in other towns — from grandiose gateways and murals, to sculptures that move with the wind or emerge only at low tide.

The committee also invited environmental artist Susan Leibovitz Steinman to showcase her city-centric works, including diverse apple tree plots, community gardens and recreational trails.

An assortment of ideas was suggested, such as doing a series of smaller works or creating a community space for events along the river. Other elements proposed included supporting local artists and creating partnerships with businesses along Water Street.

While many concepts were suggested during the forum, there is no specific idea or plan yet as to what the artwork will look like. Alison Marks, chair of the art committee, said elements the committee hopes to incorporate include the history of the site, a sense of place and time, a sense of generations, commerce, recreation and collaboration.

Before approaching the city council with a project proposal, the committee must create a project summary and description, establish a budget and deadlines, define the goals of their project and determine criteria for selecting artists' proposals.

If the council approves the project proposal, Marks said the committee will request creative proposals and open the project up to artists locally and possibly across the nation.

Susan Starbird, a Petaluma Waterways advocate present at the forum, said it's important for the committee to take into account "the importance of connecting the arts with the river environment" when requesting and reviewing artists' proposals.

She hopes artists will utilize "features that remind us that (the river) is a real legacy of this community."

Marks said the public art fund has been limited since the economy tanked in 2008. What little money did come in was used over the last five years to draw up a required Public Art Master Plan. Approved by the city council last fall, the master plan dictates how public art is funded, what constitutes art and where art can go. To generate funds for art, the city offers commercial developers a choice: install on-site art worth 1 percent of the project's total costs, or pay that same amount into the city's public art fund.

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