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Petaluma mural part of public art movement spreading through Sonoma County

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Maxfield Bala fell in love with drawing and all things art when he was a middle school student doodling in the corners of his notebooks. As a Petaluma local, he never thought he would have an opportunity to bring his small drawings to life in a big way.

Today, Bala is one of a handful of North Bay artists sought out by local art committees and city planning departments to design and paint larger-than-life public art installations on sides of buildings, electrical boxes and other community areas throughout the county.

His latest creation, a “Welcome to Petaluma” mural spanning 50-feet wide and 13-feet tall on Petaluma Boulevard South along Highway 101, is one of multiple projects Bala has been asked to contribute to the county so far this year.

“The welcome mural I am painting has so many features that represent the city that are iconic to Petaluma that we have all grown up with as a community,” said 25-year-old Bala, who declined to disclose the cost for the project. “It is just nice to give back to the community in the way I know how, which is through art.”

Petaluma public art specialist Anee Knight said she has watched as cities embraced public art in recent years and community interest shifted to welcome such art.

“Public art is exciting because it can be viewed in the course of daily life and hopefully it captures the eye of someone walking through and causes an awareness of the civic landscape in a new way,” Knight said. “A public art collection can reflect the environment, a diverse community and a city’s rich history.”

The welcome mural in Petaluma was commissioned and paid for by Terrapin Investments and Hotel Management, which is building a self-storage facility the mural will be displayed on, Bala said. The company did not return phone messages seeking comment.

Public art brings people together and is a cohesive aspect to a community, said Katherine Plank, who has been actively involved in the public art scene in Petaluma for more than 10 years and has been on the Petaluma Public Art Committee for almost two years.

“As people become more familiar with public art it will become a gathering space for people to share thoughts on art in a friendly, open environment,” she said.

Bala and a partner, Ryan Petersen, are in the process of securing one of the largest mural projects commissioned by the county. They have met with Plank multiple times to discuss ideas for the mural, which will be created in September. However, a location and design haven’t been identified.

Plank said she hopes that the future county mural challenges passersby to think about the region in a different way that is not as obvious as animals or typical slogans.

“I would like to see people step back, take a breath and let the art unfold,” Plank said. “We have an opportunity with murals and especially the big one in September to really make people think.”

You can reach Staff Writer Alexandria Bordas at 707-521-5337 or alexandria.bordas@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @CrossingBordas.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the story incorrectly spelled Ryan Petersen’s name. The story has been updated.

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