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City of Napa Public Art Steering Committee hears update on Fuller Park public art playground | Local News

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Over the past few months, Napa city staff has been carrying out research for a planned playable public art structure in Fuller Park.

The city’s Public Art Steering Committee voted in September 2021 to recommend city staff move forward with a proposal to bring a public art playground to Fuller Park, which would replace the current playground that’s nearing the end of its lifespan. The project is still in its early, conceptual design stages, and needs to run through several phases before heading to the Napa City Council for approval.

This week, the committee received an update on city staff research into public art playgrounds. Ali Koenig, parks and recreation management analyst, said the city’s Parks and Recreation staff have been looking into how other communities have developed projects that serve as both public art and play structures.

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“Through our research, we found this can really be defined as one-of-a-kind public art play environment with families,” Koenig said at the meeting. “It serves multiple purposes, so it acts like an artistic landmark in the city, it provides play space for youth, and it really encourages social interaction and movement for all mental and physical abilities within the community.”

Koenig said staff is roughly estimating the project will cost between $500,000 and $750,000, taking into account the cost of the structure cost and artist fees, potential landscape architect fees and paying for a general contractor. She added staff will be returning to the committee in April to bring back the final project direction, as well as more detail on the budget, project timeline and public engagement plan.

The project would be expected to last from 15 to 20 years or more, Koenig said, which is roughly on par with the typical lifespan of play structures.

Under the project goals, the city is aiming for the playable art structure to “advance public art as a critical contributor to the community and social development and become a landmark in the community,” Koenig said. The playable art is also intended to create open-ended artistic play value for children, the goals say. City staff is aiming to fully finish the project by the end of 2023.

Koenig added that part of the research involved looking over projects by several award-winning vendors: the California-based Specified Play Equipment Co. (SPEC), Ontario-based Earthscape, Berlin-based KOMPAN and Denmark-based Monstrum.  

“The vendors and companies we’ve been speaking with, the way they approach projects is they both look at the theme and the story, (defining) what is this project,” Koenig said. “Then they move into the artistic phase, sketches and designs. From there they then build in play value and that results in the final play sculpture.”

All the firms have completed projects in the United States, and some are located in the Bay Area. SPEC, for example, designed an art playground representative of a sea mollusk for San Francisco’s South Park. In San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood, Earthscape built the Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground around playable water dragon and phoenix sculptures. And Monstrum was behind a Humpback Whale playground in Emeryville.

“I had the chance to visit that Emeryville site and my 18-month-old daughter was climbing in and out of the humpback whale,” Koenig said. “It was being used exactly how you see in that photo, with families and kids crawling all over it.”

The committee members said they liked the examples and how the project has evolved. Committee chair John Hannaford said he thinks most of the public will be 100% in approval of the plan if they see what playable art really is, and where the city’s going with the project.

“It’s not like we’re sticking some sculpture there and kids can jump on it,” Hannaford said.

Hannaford added that he wants it to be clear in the public engagement process that the project is attempting to incorporate the activities that children love in traditional play structures, while still functioning as art.  

“I know myself and we’ve always judged from ourselves,” Hannaford said. “When I was a little child a lot of the things that I saw that connected me with art were things like (those playgrounds), which led me to wanting to be an artist. And so it’s not that every child will want to be an artist. But they really do take aesthetic awareness and incorporate it from early ages. That’s all children. They’re attracted to certain things, movement and sights and textures. So it really is an engaging thing and not just some kind of static sculpture.”

The piece would serve to kick off the city’s Arts in Parks program — approved by the committee roughly a year ago — which is intending to spread public art throughout the city and increase the use of city parks as public art destinations.

Soscol Avenue Median Art

In other news, the committee voted to reprioritize public art on two southern Soscol Avenue medians, located between Gasser Drive and Sousa Lane, for the upcoming fiscal year, with a proposed budget of $250,000. 

Art for the medians, which were completed in 2018 as part of a project enhancing traffic flow and safety, also needs to run through several phases before going before the Napa City Council.

One median, located toward the north contains roughly 85 feet of usable area, with width varying from 2 to 7 feet, according to the staff report. The other median, located toward the south, is 450 feet long, with a width varying from 2 to 8 feet.

The committee voted, at the suggestion of committee member Lissa Gibbs, to assign the project as a roadway public art project instead of a gateway project, out of concern that Soscol Avenue wasn’t technically a gateway into Napa.

Aside from a few other concerns about safety and cars hitting the art installations, the committee members generally expressed support for the project.

Hannaford said median artwork was well established in other communities, and that the median artwork will help beautify Soscol Avenue along with several other public art pieces that have recently gone up in the area.   

“At one point in time Soscol was a horrible street, just so unappealing, and I think all these improvements have been really helpful,” Hannaford said.

You can reach Edward Booth at (707) 256-2213.

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