One of downtown Santa Rosa's most iconic pieces of public art — a 13-foot-tall, mosaic-covered concrete and steel statue of a rainbow trout, titled "Guardian of the Creek" — soon will get guardians of its own.
Starting in July, the Artstart nonprofit, which contracts with Santa Rosa for the creation and installation of statues, murals and decorated benches, will hire three apprentice artists to repair "Guardian" and other downtown artwork damaged by vandals.
The $55,000 "fish statue," as downtown regulars have dubbed it, repeatedly has had chunks broken off it by skateboarders crashing up on the concrete "waves" surrounding its base, said artist and Artstart founder Mario Uribe.
"We've repaired it several times," Uribe said. "It kept getting damaged."
Last year, the city spent $2,900 repairing the statue, said Kathy Farrell, executive director of Artstart.
The restoration of the piece will begin with the city's installation of a barrier around the base of the statue, which depicts the fish leaping up into the air.
The statue, commissioned by the city and created by Uribe in collaboration with the late sculptor Daniel Oberti and Artstart student apprentices, was installed at the entrance of the Prince Memorial Greenway in 2008. It immediately became a magnet for visitors, especially young children.
The city of Santa Rosa has allocated $2,500 for a three-person restoration crew as part of the 15-year-old Artstart program's annual summer session, in which young artists are paid stipends to help create and install new work.
Farrell said she hopes to get corporate and private funding to make the repair and maintenance of the art a year-round program.
"We do have quite a bit of public art throughout the downtown area and on the Prince Memorial Greenway," Farrell said.
During a decade and a half of the Artstart program, the city has invested $300,000 in public art, including funding for 200 benches and more than 50 murals and statues, Uribe said.
Some of the benches also have been damaged by skateboards, Farrell said.
Uribe's 700-foot mosaic mural, "Exit the Dragon," at the Highway 101 underpass along the Prince Memorial Greenway has also been repeatedly defaced, with vandals gouging out the title, the artist's signature and the dragon's eyes. Uribe plans to redo the mural so that the dragon's face is not shown.
One of the largest pieces of Artstart public art, an outdoor wall mural on the west end of the Russian River Brewing Co. building on the alley named Jeju Way, remains unscathed.
"It's a pastoral Sonoma County scene," Farrell said. "That mural has never had any tagging or vandalism at all."
Uribe said Artstart leaders haven't been able to figure out why some pieces of public art are targeted for vandalism and others aren't.
"There have been a lot of theories about it, but we really don't know," Uribe said. "I've talked to psychologists and the police department, but we really don't know."
(You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.)