Petaluma project unites through art

Mural at Petaluma police station meant to build sense of community|

Art has many functions. It beautifies our surroundings and defines who we are as individuals and as a society. It can also serve as a unifying component that reinforces the values of an organization.

To that end, Sergeant Brian Miller, a 12-year Petaluma Police veteran, recently proposed a mural for the police department headquarters on Petaluma Boulevard North, so that officers, staff and the public have a visual reminder of what the department stands for.

The city’s Public Art Committee unanimously approved the project in January, and soon there will be a 40-foot by 12-foot visual tribute to community, teamwork, excellence, leadership, professionalism and the volunteers that step up to help.

“Our department had quite a few new officers brought into the agency and I was looking for a way to emphasize what we call our ‘performance principals,’ and educate staff on what’s important,” Miller said. “The idea I came up with spoke to community involvement and working as a team.”

In order to bring his idea to fruition, Miller recruited local artist Maxfield Bala and Marla Pedersen of St. Vincent de Paul High School’s Art Angels, a club formed in 2013 that teaches students the importance of art in the community.

“I came to be familiar with Maxfield’s work at the Secret Kitchen and the chicken mural,” Miller said. “He’s someone from our community that has the skill set to carry out the project.”

Petaluma native Bala is making a name for himself as a mural artist both locally and nationally. The chicken mural at the corner of Water and Washington streets on the facade of the Worthy of Love Recycled Home Furnishing store was his first leap into the medium. He has also done work for other local businesses, most notably Lagunitas, which recently commissioned Bala to create a 110-foot by 30-foot mural in Las Vegas.

“The project was initially conceived by Sgt. Miller, who’d seen my work in various venues,” Bala said. “We asked Marla Pedersen to get involved, and when I came back from Las Vegas, found out it was going forward.”

Bala had hoped to be finished by the third week of February, but due to the historical amount of rain in the region the project has been delayed.

Members of Art Angels expressed enthusiasm to be involved with such a community-oriented project.

“We try to find projects in the community that give us a sense of the ‘bigger picture,’” Pedersen said. “We were excited to talk about the project with Sgt. Miller and find out how we could fit in.”

She credits Bala with his organizational skills and his ability to connect with her students for bringing the project to fruition.

“He got us all set up and organized and was very kind to meet with the kids and go over the project,” she added.

To students in the program, the project represents more than art for the sake of art. It also offers them a new way to look at and understand the world around them.

St. Vincent’s senior Samantha Garcia has been involved with Art Angels for four years, and although she has no plans to go into an artistic field, she feels her participation has helped her grow.

“Art Angels has shown me it’s the small things in life that matter,” Garcia said. “It’s about us helping the community see that we care about the things we love. It will be cool to think about officers seeing this art and feeling grateful.”

Although passersby will not be able to see the mural from the vantage point of the street, its location will serve as inspiration as well as a reminder of the importance of the department to the wider community.

“(The committee) would have preferred to have it on the front of the building, as would the police department, but we have to work with what we have,” Miller said. “But the location allows staff to see it when they come into work and arrestees also see it when they come in and it gives them the opportunity to see what we are all about.”

Bala expressed gratitude to Miller for the opportunity to serve the community in which both men grew up, as well as allowing his burgeoning mural skills to be displayed in a fresh venue.

“Hopefully, this project will get me a fire department gig,” he quipped.

The project is moving forward thanks in part to donations from Kelly Moore Paint and Cal West Rentals, which is providing a lift to facilitate the work.

To view more of Bala’s art, go to

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