Santa Rosa set to pick public art for Old Courthouse Square

Five artists with vastly different ideas for capturing the essence of Santa Rosa in a sculpture have been named as finalists in the city’s competition to create a prominent piece of public art downtown in Old Courthouse Square.|

Five artists with vastly different ideas for capturing the essence of Santa Rosa in a sculpture have been named as finalists in the city’s competition to create a prominent piece of public art downtown in Old Courthouse Square.

Santa Rosa’s plan to install public art on the north side of the square at Mendocino Avenue has been percolating for months, after the city received more than 140 submissions in January.

A selection panel comprised of eight people in the arts and downtown communities is on track to choose one of the five finalists by Oct.5, when that recommendation is set to go before the city’s Art in Public Places Committee for approval, said Tara Thompson, the city’s arts and culture manager.

The goal of the project is to create "a prominent artistic symbol that reflects the uniquely Santa Rosa values of innovation and cultural inclusivity," the city said. "This art installation should inspire people living in, and visiting, our city to reflect on what is special about our community and encourage them to gather downtown to experience it firsthand."

The project, which will be funded by the city’s Public Art Fund, is budgeted for $280,000. Here’s a look at the five pieces, submitted by artists from the North Bay, Los Angeles, Seattle and Tuscon:

“The Tie That Binds” by Benjamin Ball. (City of Santa Rosa)
“The Tie That Binds” by Benjamin Ball. (City of Santa Rosa)

Benjamin Ball of Ball-Nogues Studio in Los Angeles submitted a concept called “The Tie That Binds,” a stainless steel contraption featuring a tendril of spheres that form a knot akin to those used to bind vines to trellises. The winding design and the knot are meant to evoke viticulture, and the spheres would be mirror-polished to reflect viewers and the surrounding landscape, according to a description on the city’s website.

“Valley of the Moon” by Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan.  (City of Santa Rosa)
“Valley of the Moon” by Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan. (City of Santa Rosa)

Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan of Seattle submitted “Valley of the Moon” — a spherical orb suspended above a crescent made of stainless steel with redwood decking. This piece, which would be illuminated at night, aims to fit into the existing pattern on the central lawn and its lighted pillars.

“Unum” by Blessing Hancock.  (City of Santa Rosa)
“Unum” by Blessing Hancock. (City of Santa Rosa)

Blessing Hancock of Tuscon submitted “Unum” (Latin for “oneness” or “together”) a sort of three-dimensional Mobius strip made up stainless steel that would cast off shadows of words carved into it with a text that aims to emphasize “innovation, diversity and engagement.”

“The Dome” by Gordon Huether. (City of Santa Rosa)
“The Dome” by Gordon Huether. (City of Santa Rosa)

Gordon Huether of Napa submitted “The Dome” a steel and multicolored glass dome that hearkens back to the dome of the old courthouse, featuring a Luther Burbank quote and a flower motif.

“Air Arbor” by Ned Kahn.  (City of Santa Rosa)
“Air Arbor” by Ned Kahn. (City of Santa Rosa)

Ned Kahn of Sebastopol submitted “Air Arbor” in which a dozen steel poles would support 36 Teflon fabric curtains cut in such a way that “they will ripple in the wind like water” to make the wind visible to onlookers.

Community members can take a survey about the public art finalists at srcity.org/ImagineArt until Sept. 20. That feedback will be shared with the selection panel, according to the city.

The timeline for the project has been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and installation is now set for early 2022, the city said Thursday in a news release.

In a parallel move, public and private interests are collaborating to bring back the bas-relief friezes designed by San Francisco sculptor Ruth Asawa in 1987. The Asawa panels, which depict scenes from Sonoma County’s history, graced a tile fountain in downtown Santa Rosa before their removal in 2016 as part of the reunification of the square.

Art pieces were removed this week from Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa, including Ruth Asawa's beloved fountain panels depicting Sonoma County life and history. Thursday, May 26, 2016. (Kevin McCallum /The Press Democrat)
Art pieces were removed this week from Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa, including Ruth Asawa's beloved fountain panels depicting Sonoma County life and history. Thursday, May 26, 2016. (Kevin McCallum /The Press Democrat)

The fountain and the Asawa panels are set to be installed on the south side of the square, with a groundbreaking for the project by the end of the year, the Santa Rosa Downtown District, an arm of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, announced last week.

The Hugh Futrell Corp., which has numerous previous and ongoing downtown developments in downtown Santa Rosa, is leading the fountain rebuild effort and contributing $100,000 toward the rebuilding cost, according to the district.

Another $50,000 came from an anonymous donor in August, and chamber officials will continue fundraising through September to amass the remaining funds needed for the rebuild, estimated to cost at least $235,000.

“The Asawa panels are incredibly important to our community, not just for their history, but for the way they brought our community together when they were created,” said Natalie Balfour, chairwoman of the Downtown Action Organization, in a statement. “Santa Rosa has been through a very difficult few years and we see this as a very meaningful way to unite our community in a time when we all feel so disconnected.”

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

Editor’s Note: Artist Gordon Huether of Napa's submission is titled “The Dome.” Due to incorrect information provided by the city of Santa Rosa, Huether’s piece was incorrectly identified in a previous version of this article.

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