Editorial: Public art makes Petaluma pop
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: This is not about the embattled “Fine Balance” project, a.k.a. “the bathtubs on stilts,” a topic that has already received plenty of ink in this newspaper.
This is a celebration of the public art that makes Petaluma such a wonderful place to explore and show off.
Have you taken a walk down American Alley and around the Keller Street parking garage lately? If not, add a visit to the top of your to-do list. The brick walls are festooned with so many colorful murals, it almost feels like a museum as you walk from one work of art to another.
The latest features eye-catching crows among bright pink blossoms, a piece by muralist Jonny Hirschmugl that was commissioned by Keller Street Cowork on the back of its building.
It seems every few weeks, we have a new mural to celebrate here in Petaluma, such as Max Bala’s recent beauty at his alma mater McNear Elementary, and the stunning addition at the Petaluma Swim Center by MJ Lindo and Joshua Lawyer. And who could forget David Best’s oh-so-Instagramable “River Arch” off Lakeville Highway?
When it comes to public art, we can count ourselves lucky. While other historic downtowns have shied away from anything that modernizes its look and feel, Petaluma has become a rich playground for artists to showcase their unique perspectives.
That, of course, is by design.
In 2005, the city passed an ordinance that requires developers to pay 1% of their total “above ground building costs” into the city’s Public Art Fund, or build their own art project valued at the same amount.
Typically, developers choose to pay into the fund, giving the city the chance to argue with the public over what to do with the money, as we’ve seen with “Fine Balance.” (Perhaps that’s proof that public art is not served best by a government committee, but that’s an editorial for another day).
Deer Creek Village developers Merlone Geier were one of the few who took a DIY approach when it commissioned “A Whale of a Good Time,” a sculpture of found metal objects molded into an elegant whale’s tale by Sacramento artist Terrence Martin in 2014. And of course, PG&E’s famous “giant plug” was commissioned by the company in 2015.
Public art isn’t meant to appeal to everyone, but with so many options in our fair city, you’d be hard pressed not to find one you love.
And for that, we are grateful to years of city leadership that has placed value on, and pushed for, our public spaces to be works of art.