s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe
You've read 3 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to Petaluma360.com, the Argus-Courier e-edition and our mobile app starting at just 99 cents per month!
Already a subscriber?
You've read 6 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to Petaluma360.com, the Argus-Courier e-edition and our mobile app starting at just 99 cents per month!
Already a subscriber?
We hope you've enjoyed reading your 10 free articles this month.
Continue reading with unlimited access to Petaluma360.com, the Argus-Courier e-edition and our mobile app starting at just 99 cents per month!
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you!
Get unlimited access to Petaluma360.com, the Argus-Courier e-edition and our mobile app starting at just 99 cents per month, and support community journalism!
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for your interest in award-winning community journalism! To get more of it, why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to Petaluma360.com, the Argus-Courier e-edition and our mobile app starting at just 99 cents per month, and support community journalism!
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Take the next step by subscribing today!
Starting at just 99 cents per month, you can keep reading Petaluma360.com, the Argus-Courier e-edition and our mobile app, and support local journalism!
Already a subscriber?

Bathtub art project gets Petaluma council blessing

X

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Login

X

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

LoginSubscribe

A controversial public art installation on Water Street scored a major victory Monday night when Petaluma City Council decided not to terminate the contract with the artist despite the raucous debate that’s unfolded since the proposal was revealed earlier this year.

It was the first time the “Fine Balance” project by San Francisco-based artist Brian Goggin, which features five Victorian-era bathtubs suspended above the promenade on 17-foot-high iron stilts, had been weighed publicly by elected officials since renderings of the sculpture went viral in April.

After two hours of discussion that included almost 40 public comments, in front of an audience that spilled out of the council chambers and into the hallway at City Hall, the council opted to allow the process to continue — at least for now.

If the city decides to change course before construction of Petaluma’s first piece of commissioned art has been completed, a 10-day clause in the contract gives the council the power to terminate the agreement and pay the artist for his work up to that point.

Public opposition for the $150,000 project, which is funded by fees from developers, has been fierce over the past few months, marked by bottomless discussion threads on social media. The criticisms of the piece have been just as broad — from the significance of bathtubs to the project’s obstruction of the revered site to safety concerns and its potential for attracting miscreants.

Council members did their best to abstain from critiquing the art itself, although a majority of them indicated they were in favor of it. Instead, they focused more on the merits of the ordinances that paved the way for public art projects, and the precedent that might be set if they overturned a decision by an appointed body like the Petaluma Public Art Committee, which approved the project with a 6-1 vote on May 24.

“I have a hard time, when we ask these staffs that are volunteers and members of the community and put this time in and they solicit input and they come up with a product, and we totally undercut what they’re doing,” Councilman Gabe Kearney said.

Several residents said they supported the process but preferred to put Goggin’s piece somewhere else. Councilman Chris Albertson, who objected to the bathtub concept entirely, and Councilman Mike Healy agreed that it would be more appropriate at a different location.

“The graphics that the city manager circulated today really caught my attention by the amount of space this chews up,” Healy said. “I do think it would make it unusable for a lot of events.”

But the council members that were in favor of the installation objected to another site because the municipal process that began four years ago and encompassed two separate searches was designed specifically for the Water Street promenade.

“The location is what has driven this entire process,” said Councilwoman Teresa Barrett. “That is the point I’ve been trying to make to a lot of people who have contacted me through this. Moving it somewhere else, it’s just not the purpose of this request for qualifications.”

The 36 public comments were almost a perfect split of those against and those for the project, highlighting the lack of consensus within the community. The makeup of each camp was diverse, debunking the notion that it’s a battle pitting young versus old or new resident versus multi-generational.

The art committee chose to select an artist rather than a submitted piece after the first call for artists in December 2014 resulted in four uninspiring proposals. After that, the city elected to restart the process a second time in October 2016.

Goggin was selected out of nearly 70 applicants, and signed a contract with the city last fall. During two public meetings at Aqus Cafe, he presented his research process and the concept behind the traveling tubs.

Over time, the opposition grew increasingly more precise, shifting from emotional rebukes of the concept to ways in which it conflicted with city ordinances.

Former councilwoman and executive director of Rebuilding Together Jane Hamilton, who helped author the general plan for the river area, was one of multiple commenters that pointed to ways the project violated municipal guidelines.

“Place identity is something urban planners try to preserve … and that’s deeply felt by local inhabitants,” she said. “That’s what’s going on here. People really feel attached to this place right in our downtown. Placing this art installation there, it takes up the space and it completely changes it.”

Resident Scott Andrews cited the California Art Preservation Act and the fiscal fight Petaluma could face if the hullabaloo continues once the project is installed. The City of Concord learned how costly that could be in 1990 when it was forced to negotiate terms with an artist to remove a public piece called “Spirit Poles.”

“They ended up — after a huge public outcry — paying the artist $75,000 for the right to then pay to take it down,” Andrews said.

A later court ruling said that works of art could be moved as long as they were not altered in the process.

Goggin did not respond to a request for comment. After the PPAC meeting in May, he expressed excitement once his proposal was green-lit to begin forming the final concept.

Right now that’s where the project remains, with a PPAC review next and construction permitting to follow.

“I see this as a beginning of an adventure … and having permission to move ahead fills me with exhilaration and joy,” Goggin said after the art committee vote in May. “But that’s tempered with the understand that there’s a lot of challenges that are going to come up, and just to be sober-minded on how to address them because we’re dealing with public safety concerns and the way in which people use the space, making sure the piece complements the space rather than inhibiting people’s use of it.”

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)