Sebastopol selects three finalists for public art project

Check out the trio of proposals vying to become Sebastopol’s first commissioned piece of public art. Which one do you like best?|

A living wall of colorful succulents planted in swirling patterns against the front of the local library building, its irrigation system built into the frame to ensure the plants thrive.

A suspended, overhead “gateway” of random shapes and objects strung on steel rigging cable at the downtown plaza, a quirky, abstract work designed to provoke whimsy and joy.

A shimmering, cylindrical 60-foot tower of hinged, wind-animated panels that reflect the sun and ripple like the water of the nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa, erected off the side of Highway 12 at the eastern gateway to town.

These are the three finalists selected for the city of Sebastopol's first attempt at commissioned public art. Residents are being asked to help choose the winner, though the City Council will have the ultimate say.

The city's Public Arts Committee is hosting a workshop and question/answer session on the three proposals next week so members of the public can weigh in. The five-member arts committee also will be making a recommendation for submission to the City Council.

The final choice will be paid for by the city through a fund created from fees on new development specifically earmarked for public art. The budget is $45,000 from a pool of funding that, in July, had accumulated $128,000.

One artist is so eager to supply a work for his own community that he is willing to donate much of the project.

Sebastopol resident Ned Kahn, whose kinetic sculptures can be found in far-flung places around the world, said his idea for the piece sprang from the beauty of the Laguna and his meditations on plant life and the vascular system, through xylem and phloem, that provide life.

His concept for Spire - a one-third-scale version of which has been built at his local workshop - features a tall, interior column of small, circular, stainless steel discs with an external skin of hinged rectangular aluminum panels, all of it subject to the movement of the wind and the sunlight that falls upon it during clear days.

Ned Kahn: Spire from Benjy Young on Vimeo.

If it's selected, Kahn said he would work out the precise location of the sculpture through conversations with the city and Caltrans. He hopes it would mark the city's entryway and highlight the natural setting of the Laguna.

Residents of Santa Rosa will be familiar with the work of another pair in the running for the Sebastopol prize.

Petaluma artists Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector created “Cyclisk,” the 60-foot, 10,000-pound obelisk made from recycled bicycle parts at Santa Rosa Avenue and South A Street.

Grieve said he and Spector pursued an abstract path for Sebastopol, a community dominated by the clever junk-art figures of Patrick Amiot. They conceived a mobile-like structure similar to the kind of toy a baby might have hanging over its crib or play area.

Grieve said they were inspired by the eclectic nature of communities that have evolved from farming communities now tied together by highways, bridges and general mobility. The artists liked the idea of placing their work at the downtown plaza at the city's key intersection, where it could be enjoyed by people who gather downtown or anyone passing through on the highway.

The overhead structure would be 14 feet high, about 20 feet across and perhaps 6 feet in depth, created with strings of metal, glass and ceramic beads of different sizes, shapes and colors.

“We're looking at a place where you can stop, sit under it, get a falafel, get an ice cream, and sit on a bench and chill with the artwork as the light shines through it,” he said. “We're seeing it as a bit of an intersection, hoping to create an intersection ourselves.”

Emeryville artist Vickie Jo Sowell, a Master Gardener who often works in plants and environmental art, views her proposal for Sebastopol as an homage to the city's agricultural traditions and to the work of Luther Burbank, the pioneering Sonoma County botanist who helped usher in America's Golden Era.

Her work is called The Golden Section, and she has in mind building a 17-by-19-foot galvanized steel, sloped frame against the face of the Sebastopol Library.

It would contain an intricately built mosaic of metal planters fit together almost like puzzle pieces, holding hardy succulents, heavily weighted toward coastal natives. As part of her proposal, Sowell has committed to five years of maintenance for the project, as well.

Sebastopol's five-member Public Arts Committee screened more than 30 proposals submitted by artists around the state to arrive at 10 semi-finalists.

It then narrowed the list to three with a surprising degree of unanimity, despite the subjective nature of art, committee chairman and muralist David Gordon said. The selected artists were taken on a tour of city-owned sites so they could determine where they would like to see their work installed.

But given the large-scale and public funding behind the project, and, let's face it, awareness of what can go wrong, the committee is eager to have residents evaluate the proposals themselves and provide input before a final selection is made, he said.

“It's really important in a city like Sebastopol, where everybody wants their say,” Gordon said. “We've tried to be as transparent as possible.”

But until recently, there's been little public involvement, though the three proposals are available to view online.

The Public Arts Committee will meet twice on Nov. 2, from 9:30 to noon and from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., to talk with the artists about their proposals and hear presentations. The evening is expected to draw more members of the public and will provide opportunities for public input, Webster said.

Both meetings are at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 282 S. High St.

Complete information about the public art project is available at

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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