Petaluma names two finalists for city’s Water Street art project

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After more than a year of searching, two finalists have been named to create Petaluma’s first major public work of art: local David Best, of Burning Man temple fame, and Brian Goggin, who has created a number of public works of art around San Francisco.

But the lengthy process to name the creator of the $150,000 Water Street project hasn’t gone quite as planned by the city’s art committee.

The first applicants’ proposals were scrapped after lukewarm feedback from the public. So the committee vowed to do things differently, creating a panel of stakeholders to winnow the second field of applicants to a single finalist. Unfortunately, one member of the 11-person panel was absent during the interview phase. When it came to a vote, the remaining 10 split down the middle for Goggin and Best.

It’s now up to the public art committee to choose one of them. Once selected, the artist will work together with the committee to come up with a proposal for the space. The cost of the project is funded by city code that requires large-scale developments to either commission their own works of art or pay into the city’s public art fund. This allotment is being paid for by the Target development on East Washington Street.

“It would’ve been great to have a finalist come out of the selection panel, but I think this will work out fine, too,” said committee chairwoman Caroline Hall. “There was really no other way around it.”

Best is internationally known for creating Burning Man’s elaborate, towering wooden temples — a task from which he retired last year with a final 100-foot structure complete with eight altars, a walled courtyard and chandelier.

“It’s so important to me that a piece of art shouldn’t be so intellectual that it alienates the community,” he said in his Petaluma application. “This piece I have in mind will be by our community and for our community.”

He noted the importance of using local materials and companies, and creating a place where people can gather.

“My ideas for this permanent installation is that it will be a place where all walks of life will feel comfortable and will be nourished by it — young adults, homeless, wanderers, mothers with children, the elderly and those young families looking for a new place to start their lives,” his application reads.

Goggin’s works of public art include “Caruso’s Dream,” in which light-up pianos seem to float over a San Francisco sidewalk, and “Defenestration,” where tables, chairs, lamps, a refrigerator and couches were fastened, insectlike, to the walls of a building at the corner of Howard and 6th streets in San Francisco.

In Goggin’s application, he talks about exploring “the intersection of past and present attributes of the site related to the river, trolley train, local trades and cultural influences that have shaped the community of Petaluma.”

He proposed using iron, wood and brick to incorporate elements “that have shaped the architectural character of downtown Petaluma” and light “so the work is also active at night.”

“I think the panel was happy with both finalists,” Hall said. “I think that’s why it was so hard; we were all happy with both of them.”

Both artists will be invited back for interviews with the public art committee before the members select an artist, a decision expected by the committee’s May 25 meeting.

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.

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