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Santa Rosa picks new art for Old Courthouse Square

Unum, a steel sculpture by Tucson-based artist Blessing Hancock, will be installed on the square in early 2022.|

Santa Rosa has picked an illuminated metal swirl with inset messages from the community to grace the northern side of Old Courthouse Square.

Unum, a steel sculpture by Tucson-based artist Blessing Hancock, will be installed on the square in early 2022 as part of the city’s $300,000 permanent showcase of public art at the heart of downtown.

Hancock’s design was one of 148 submissions and five finalists that went to a city selection panel before receiving the nod from the city’s Art in Public Places Committee on Monday.

The piece will feature messages and words from different languages that community members will have the opportunity to submit over the coming months, Hancock said Friday in an interview.

“It’s not my voice coming in and saying here’s what I think,” Hancock said. “It’s coming from people who really live there.”

The piece, expected to be 12 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter, will be a glowing, swirling construct of steel lit by LED lights, resembling a somewhat unwound Mobius strip covered head to toe in words and phrases. The words will be visible as shadows during the day.

Unum, derived from the Latin word for “one,” will be installed at the terminus of Mendocino Avenue on the northern part of the square.

The city noted that Unum is inspired by the decision to unify Old Courthouse Square and “embraces themes of welcoming and inspiration, while relaying the Santa Rosa values of innovation and cultural inclusivity through its integral text.”

Unum will bring the community together, not only through the process to generate words incorporated into the design, but as a gathering place, a beacon for connecting with each other,” said Lisa Puentes, who chairs the city’s Art in Public Places Committee, in a statement.

According to partial survey data released by the city, Unum ranked second when 752 members of the public voted for which design they liked most.

The top vote-getter in that survey was The Dome by Napa artist Gordon Huether, though that piece was not one of the city selection panel’s two finalists — Unum and The Tie That Binds, a work by Los Angeles artist Benjamin Ball that received the least number of votes in the public survey.

Tara Thompson, the city’s arts and culture manager, pointed to Hancock’s extensive community engagement plan when asked Monday about the decision-making process by Nina Bonos, a member of the Art in Public Places Committee.

“There was a lot of conversation about the need for community engagement,” Thompson said, noting that Hancock’s proposal included “committing to work with the public art program, with this committee, with other stakeholders, with artists locally in the community, to gather the words that will be later cut into the sides of the piece.”

“To be honest with you, I don’t think any of the other proposals came close to that kind of community engagement, and I think that that was a major deciding factor,” Thompson said during Monday’s meeting

Hancock will continue to refine her design using 3D computer software after the next phase of community outreach. After that, the sculpture will be crafted with the help of a subcontracted fabricator.

Hancock visited Santa Rosa prior to COVID-19 and said she was looking forward to returning for Unum’s installation.

“I expect by the end there will be hundreds of people who have contributed,” Hancock said. “I think it should appeal to kids and old people and everything.”

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Tucson, Arizona, where the artist is based.

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