The Petaluma Public Art Committee, meeting for the first time in two months last week, fully expected to face the uproar that has gripped the discussion of the Water Street public art installation since April.
Instead the PPAC got something more akin to its meetings before renderings of bathtubs on stilts in the city’s first piece of commissioned art went viral on social media. Despite all the negative rhetoric that has engrossed Petalumans online, a mere seven people turned out to the Train Depot last Thursday for the committee’s first gathering since May 26, when the seven appointed members approved San Francisco artist Brian Goggin’s “Fine Balance” concept with a 6-1 vote.
The piece features five Victorian bathtubs suspended above the promenade, each equipped with four angled poles 17 feet high. Based on the renderings, it will also be illuminated at night.
The PPAC has often been the target of the public’s disdain for the project, which scored a major victory on July 16 when city council chose to allow the process to continue rather than terminate Goggin’s contract. Emotions have been so high that committee member Caroline Hall said she had even received a threatening text message from an unknown number.
But, when given a chance to further scorn the alleged agents of Petaluma’s demise, the community was absent. The board heard just two comments before discussing the next stages of the project.
The PPAC tasked a subcommittee – made up of Hall, Heather Mackin and Katherine Plank – to begin planning for a so-called story pole fitting later this summer, allowing residents a chance to interact with a series of replicas on the promenade and get a real sense of how the sculpture might affect the space.
“I don’t think any of us know how it’s going to turn out,” said vice chair Christopher Smith, who submitted the lone dissenting vote against the proposal in May. “The thing is, there’s been so much discussion about it now because of a few preliminary renderings, that people seem to have become absolutists – supporters and opponents of the project. I think that’s closed a lot of minds.
“I’m not here to lobby for it. I don’t think that’s my job. But what I’d like to do is lobby for open minds as we move ahead.”
The story poles will likely go up after the Petaluma River Craft Beer Festival, which is held Sept. 15 along the esplanade. The committee plans to incorporate a way to provide written feedback, and hold the event during non-work hours as well as at least one day on a weekend.
After public comment, the committee members also addressed many of the questions that have been raised by the community over the last few months.
Multiple members spoke to the alleged lack of public involvement. Before Goggin began forming his concept, the PPAC advertised two public meetings at the project site in local news outlets, various city websites and on social media. There were also two meetings with the selection panel that was comprised of eight community members and three representatives from the PPAC.
Goggin later presented his concept at a PPAC meeting, which no one from the public attended, committee member Beverly Schor said. The first time Petalumans finally got involved were at two separate assemblies at Aqus Cafe during the last week of April once his rendering had been widely shared on Nextdoor and Facebook.