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San Francisco artist chosen for Water Street art project


More than two and a half years after the initial search for an artist began, Petaluma officials have selected an out-of-town creator to craft a $150,000 public art piece for the Water Street promenade.

After a selection committee winnowed finalists from 65 applicants, the public art committee on May 31 selected San Francisco based artist Brian Goggin to work with the city and community to create Petaluma’s first piece of commissioned art. Goggin was a finalist along with David Best, a prominent Petaluma artist known for his ornate temples featured at Burning Man.

The committee issued its first call for artists to create an installation for the up-and-coming Water Street location in December 2014. At that time, the committee chose four finalists based on their qualifications and asked them to submit a proposal for a site-specific artwork. The proposals included bright yellow legs floating in the river, a series of sculptures, marine knots mounted on pedestals and a hanging wind animated piece.

Uninspired by those results, the committee rethought its process and ultimately issued another call for artists in October 2016. This time around, the panel plans to work with the artist and community to develop a work of art best suited for the space. The $150,000 budget for the project comes from money collected from developers of large projects who are required to either pay a fee into the fund or to commission their own public art.

After the committee’s 6-1 vote, with Vice Chair Annee Booker Knight dissenting in favor of choosing Best, the panel’s recommendation is on its way to the city council for the final stamp of approval on a yet-to-be identified meeting date. The panel also unanimously voted to invite Best to discuss options for a separate project in the city.

“I want to find a way to use both (artists) somewhere at some point,” committee member Alison Marks said. “Brian’s work is more responsive in terms of the way space is used … I am more excited to see Brian’s piece there.”

Knight argued that Bests’ talent and intimate knowledge of Petaluma and its residents made him uniquely qualified.

“We’d be lucky to get something in this community ... from him at this point in his career,” she said.

Goggin, an award-winning artist, has been commissioned for more than a dozen works of art across the country, including public art pieces in San Francisco.

Between 2006 and 2008, he worked at the behest of the San Francisco Art Commission to create “The Language of The Birds” in a public plaza in the city’s North Beach neighborhood.

Working with a $350,000 budget, Goggin said he networked extensively with the surrounding community to develop the piece that features 23 sculpted, illuminated books suspended over the plaza. Below the books that appear to be in flight, significant words from the neighborhood’s literary legacy are displayed artfully across the ground. Goggin highlighted that project as one that exemplifies his style of looking to the landscape for inspiration.

“What I like to do is investigate a site and look into the physical nature of it and look at the historical and legendary context so I can tap into some stories that inspire a form that can resonate with the space,” Goggin said in an interview last week.

He said he’s spent time immersing himself in the diverse culture at the Water Street location and he’s been initially enthralled by the railway heritage and the related materials in the area, such as metal, brick and cobblestones.

“I see the history of trolleys that would come along the river and were used to move the goods, including eggs, from that area … that kind of energy was very present at one time, and it seems to be somewhat absent now. It feels as if there’s an opening there to bring back some of the essence of that vital corridor,” he said.

The committee has long touted Water Street as the heart of the city and a key spot for art, but various members have said the space is difficult to accommodate.

“I’ve looked through David’s work and so much of it is the same … it’s put on top of the space, whereas when we asked Brian he said he takes his inspiration from the community and it’s more about the space. He’s in the space, not on the space,” said Beverly Schor, a committee member.

(Contact Hannah Beausang at hannah.beausang@arguscourier.com.)