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Santa Rosa brightens up empty lots with artwork

  • City of Santa Rosa worker Anthony Navarro works on installing a new billboard mural on the corner Davis and 5th streets, in Santa Rosa, as part of a new ArtStart project on Tuesday, September 18, 2012.

Santa Rosa is adding to its inventory of art in public places, but in some unexpected locations.

City crews have been installing colorful billboards of original works by local artists at several locations around the city this week, bringing splashes of color to otherwise drab parcels.

"It does help beautify some of these places that are really kind of desolate looking," said Tara Matheny-Schuster, the city arts coordinator.

The project originally was envisioned as a way to bring some temporary visual excitement to a city landscape populated by a large number of vacant parcels. But getting permission to do anything on weed-choked properties that in many cases had been foreclosed upon was a challenge.

Many of the lots originally considered for the project turned out to be owned by bankrupt financier Clem Carinalli, said Judy Kennedy, a neighborhood activist who helped organize the program.

"It was a terrible situation because everybody was under foreclosure," Kennedy said.

That stalled the project for several months. The fallback was to install the works on city-owned parcels, which occurred this week.

The billboards, which cost the city just $300 each excluding the time to install them, were placed in four locations.

On Wednesday afternoon, Sebastopol artist Julia Davis swung by the intersection of West Fifth and Davis streets in Railroad Square, where her piece had just been installed. The whimsical, colorful piece depicts an abstract female figure making an offering of possums to a male figure, and is meant to symbolize the spirit of generosity, said Davis, 30, who signed her piece "Bud Snow."

After so many months of uncertainty, Davis said she was relieved to finally see her work on display in a public setting


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