Petaluma moves forward with Black Lives Matter street mural

The 250-foot public art project was launched in the wake of a community-led effort to support Black Lives Matter art around town. Installation begins next month.|

Petaluma will soon join dozens of cities in the United States with sanctioned Black Lives Matter street murals, launching a call Monday for interested artists to help install the temporary art piece.

The mural will span 250 feet of Fairgrounds Drive in front of the Petaluma Regional Library, a one-way street off East Washington Boulevard primarily used to access parking and the neighboring Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds property. The street will close temporarily for the Aug. 9 installation day and reopen for regular use shortly after completion.

The project is the latest expression of local support for the national movement calling for racial equality and an end to police brutality, and follows Sebastopol’s Friday debut of its own Black Lives Matter mural in the town’s central plaza.

Since the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Petaluma has seen more than a dozen Black Lives Matter demonstrations, several drawing hundreds of participants.

After public outrage over the repeated destruction of an ad-hoc art piece at Leghorns Park featuring dozens of handmade signs and artworks emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” messages, city officials moved to step in.

Over the last few weeks, City Council, staff and the 7-member Public Art Committee designated a stretch of the park’s fencing as a protected public forum space and approved the Fairgrounds Drive street mural.

The project will cost approximately $15,000, drawing from the public art fund paid for by developer fees specifically earmarked for public art projects, per city development requirements.

Each 20-foot letter is to be decorated by 16 separate artists, who will also receive an $800 cash stipend for their work. Staff estimates traffic control for the day of installation will cost approximately $2,000.

Public Art Committee member Melissa Abercrombie said while the piece does not have a designated end date or date of removal, it will be gradually worn out over time.

Although the project has garnered significant public support, including resounding approval by the City Council, a few residents called in to the virtual Public Art Committee meeting Thursday to denounce the project. All took issue with the mural’s Black Lives Matter message, calling the national movement for racial equality “divisive” and “wrong.”

A petition is also circulating online calling for the city to allow a “MAGA” political street mural along Kentucky Street, a central thoroughfare in downtown Petaluma. “MAGA” is an abbreviation of “Make America Great Again,” President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan. As of Monday afternoon, the petition has collected approximately 400 signatures.

City Attorney Eric Danly dismissed this request, writing in an email that the city does not intend to designate any street as a public forum open to political statements. The street mural on Fairground Drive, he explained, is legally designated as an exercise in government speech.

"The city is not opening city streets or vehicle ways on city-owned property like the Fairgrounds property to individuals or organizations to paint political viewpoints, and no permits concerning such activity will be issued,“ Danly said in the email.

Responding to the public comments made in opposition to the mural during Thursday night’s meting, Abercrombie implored residents to see “Black Lives Matter” as a social justice statement and not a politically-divisive issue.

“Right now, what we’re saying as a community is that there has not been justice for every member of our community, and right now we need to support everyone,” she said. “And in supporting everyone, we say that Black Lives Matter.”

Artists interested in participating are asked to submit a statement of interest and up to five examples of previous artwork.

A two to three-member committee will oversee the artist applications and appointments of the 16 artists and five alternates. Selected artists will then be asked to submit a concept sketch before the installation date, after which letters will be assigned.

Application deadlines close Aug. 2 at 9 p.m., and selections will be announced Aug. 3, with installation scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 9.

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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