The old coin-operated parking meters Santa Rosa kicked to the curb years ago in favor of more high-tech models have popped back up in downtown, but not to nickel-and-dime drivers.
The discarded meters have reared their heads again in the form of a piece of public art, which sprang up over the weekend on Fifth Street beside the Exchange Bank drive-thru.
“I think it’s cool. I can’t wait to see what it does,” Curt Barnickel said Monday as he surveyed the sculpture across the street from his Agent Ink Gallery. “It went in fast. I can tell you it wasn’t here Saturday.”
A team based out of the Sebastopol makerspace Chimera installed the curious contraption Sunday. Titled “Meter Made,” the piece is made up of 80 recycled meter heads mounted on a vase-shaped substructure and topped with a solar panel.
Once the wiring is complete in coming weeks, people will be able to fully appreciate the interactive light display at the heart of the work, said Dana Woodman, the lead artist.
“We’re a few weeks away from turning it on, but once we do, people will definitely not be able to miss it at night,” Woodman said.
There are four programmable-color LED light bulbs installed inside the semi-circular windows on each meter head.
When the sun goes down, the LEDs illuminate in a variety of patterns that people will be able to influence, making what is a static sculpture by day into a kinetic, engaging experience by night, Woodman said.
“Each column has a motion sensor built into it, so as people walk around it, it will adapt to what people do,” he said.
They’re still working it out, but the lights could change colors, brightness, frequency of flashing, or any number of variations.
“There are literally infinite possibilities, so we’re going to play around with it,” Woodman said.
The 32-year-old software designer founded Chimera six years ago and was intrigued when the city in 2016 sought artists who could turn a pile of broken and discarded parking meters into something sublime.
Woodman and his team were selected by a city art panel, but the project quickly ran into challenges, said Tara Thompson, the city’s arts coordinator. She estimated the project was about 16 months behind schedule.
The first challenge was the cost to run power to the spot at the northeast corner of the city parking lot. The sculpture needed to be redesigned to be self-powered, which it’s now through the small solar panel and battery.
That pushed the budget up from $14,000 to $18,000, Thompson said. About $5,000 came from the downtown parking district while the balance was drawn from the city’s art fund, which comes from a fee of 1 percent of the construction costs on commercial developments over $500,000 in the city, she said.
The fund is fairly flush right now thanks to the completion of several major commercial projects, including Kaiser Permanente’s new office building in southwest Santa Rosa. The fund this year has about a $225,000 budget, and will be put toward several initiatives, including an art display in the reunified Old Courthouse Square, Thompson said.
The electrical redesign to “Meter Made” pushed the project’s initial timeline back several weeks, then the fires hit in October. Woodman was diverted to fire relief projects, while Thompson was recruited for city emergency operations, she said.