July 22, 2009

Public Art and Improvement, Part 2

Back in April I posted a blog entitled Public Art and Redevelopment that looked at the new condominium building currently under construction on the corner of Valencia and 18th Street in the Mission District and more generally, raised the issue of the role of public art within the context of redevelopment. Today I’m focusing again on the Mission District and specifically, the impending public art project that is folded into one of the many city sponsored improvement plans.

The Valencia Streetscape Improvement Project was initiated and sponsored by the San Francisco Department of Public Works. In 2006, the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) received an Environmental Justice Grant from Caltrans to create a Pedestrian Safety Plan for Valencia Street and for the past three years this plan has slowly been in the works to improve the commercial corridor between 15th and 19th Streets.  Improvements will include widening the sidewalks, removing the striped medians, creating curb extensions or “bulb-outs,” installing more bike racks, trees, kiosks, and art elements. Once component of the “art element” is a public artwork created by one artist and commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission.  Since April, the artist selection process has been underway juried by the San Francisco Arts Commission, along with a panel of Mission District residents and business owners.  A few weeks ago the four finalists were revealed, they are Ana Teresa Fernandez, Michael Arcega, Brian Goggin, and Misako Inaoka.


Valencia and 16th Street, a major intersection within the designated area of the Valencia Streetscape Improvement Project

These finalists represent a range of disciplines, including artists who have experience working within public spaces, such as Goggin, and more studio-based artists like Fernandez. In fact, Goggin’s “Defenestration,” an installation of furniture and household items fastened to the exterior of an old hotel on the corner of 6th and Howard Street has become a recognizable and celebrated part of San Francisco’s South of Market landscape. His project “Language of the Birds” currently on view in downtown San Francisco was recently revered as one of the best public artworks in the country. The work of Fernandez, Arcenga, Goggin, and Inaoka ranges conceptually as well, including themes of immigration, women and labor, and the boundary between what is natural and artificial. They also represent a diversity of ethnicities, backgrounds, and ages, and I believe are all residents of the Mission District.  Based on the video interviews conducted by Stephanie Rousselle of the Mission Local blog, the artists each mention their unique relationships to the neighborhood and most credit their artistic inspiration and sustainability in part to the diversity and vibrancy of the Mission District.


“Defenestration” by Brian Goggin. Furniture and household items emerging from an abandoned hotel on Howard and 6th Street.

Tomorrow morning these artists will meet with streetscape designers and members of the Mission District community to discuss their proposal for their public project.  The meeting will be held at the Mission Police Station Community Room at 630 Valencia Street from 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. The public is invited to attend this meeting to gain more information and share their vision of the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, I can’t attend the meeting and so I’m including a here a list of questions I would ask if I could go in hopes that someone will attend and report back.

What site will the artist use?

How will the work respond to the neighborhood?

Will it be participatory?

Will the work evolve over time?

Will the work be temporary or permanent?

How will it interact with local businesses and residents?

How will it maintain the diversity of the neighborhood?

What is the artists’ relationship to the Mission District?

How will the work function in relationship to the improvement projects?

Will the projects respond to the issues addressed in the streetscape plan including the “problem of graffiti and flyering”?

Of course, I have an entirely seperate set of questions about the Valencia Streetscape Improvement Project itself, but I’m afraid I’m a bit too late in the planning process to raise those questions in any sort of community meeting enviroment. Perhaps I will address them in another post soon. Despite my questions and heightened concern about the role of the artist within redevelopment and improvement projects, I am excited about the potential of this project and confident that these four artists will propose thoughtful and challenging work within the complex and multi-layered context of Valencia Street and the Mission District.

Comments (5)

  • Here is an update on the community meeting held on Thursday morning gather from the article, “Public Art on Valencia Street? Where’s the Public?” written by Stefania Rouselle of the Mission Local Blog. Unfortunately only two members of the community were present for the meeting and so, it function more as an information session for the artists than a dialogue between the artists and residents. The artists are to make proposals for up to 6 designated lightposts along Valencia Street for work to be installed and viewed eight feet above street-level. Their proposals are due September 14th and will be on view until October 20th. It isn’t clear where but my assumption is at the SF Arts Commission. More soon!

  • Kevin, No I don’t think it is an imperative. It is certainly not something that I expect or think is appropriate for all art projects. However I do think that public art lends itself well to participatory projects that have the ability to evolve over time and can, in a sense, take account of the changes in neighborhoods, the comings and goings, daily routines, layers of people and history and time. I suppose, in a sense all public art projects evolve over time as they are subjected to conditions of city life, weather, etc. and the context of their site often changes whether or not that evolution is built into the project itself.

  • Thanks JC, correction made!

  • nice to find out that two friends of mine have been selected as finalists, but wanted to point out a correction: it’s Michael’s last name is ARCEGA, not ARCENGA.

  • Kevin Killian says:

    Hi Adrienne, do you think it is important that art projects evolve over time?

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