The Petaluma Public Art Committee is set to discuss viable options for the future of “Fine Balance” after the city council last week declined to move forward with the controversial project amid a wave of public backlash.
Designed by San Francisco artist Brian Goggin, the public art project featuring five claw foot bathtubs on stilts was set for construction along the Water Street promenade in the heart of downtown Petaluma, setting of years of back and forth.
After initially approving the project, the Petaluma City Council last week sided with a vocal group of residents, who complained about the artwork’s appearance and potential impact on nearby businesses and events. They pushed council members to reject the the installation – or at least find a new location.
Ultimately, the council sent the project back to the art committee to consider alternate locations.
Art committee members, though, said they’re looking forward to continuing their work, and are eager to listen to community concerns.
“There’s a lot of energy in all directions on this. I want to show the people who have invested my appreciation and respect, and see with a clear mind how we can move forward and make something successful,” Art committee member Melissa Abercrombie said in a phone interview. “I will say that I’ve been on several boards and committees for the city and I feel at some point, you’ve just got to listen.”
The city council’s move to seek a new location came in response to the committee’s request for an $80,000 environmental impact report that would have examined the impacts of the project on the Water Street community.
Council member D’Lynda Fischer was ready to move forward with the measure, citing the council’s prior approval of the public art installation. Mayor Teresa Barrett joined Fischer in seeking to move forward with existing plans.
“We came to a compromise two years ago that we would approve this project for 10 years, then reassess it. I’m not sure if anything’s changed since then that would change my mind about this project,” Fischer said at the Sept. 13 meeting. “If we really want to know and prove what the impacts are, then we should do the EIR, so that we can answer all these questions and make an informed decision.”
Committee member Christopher Smith said he agrees with points made by each city council member and respects the overall decision. Smith also pointed out that the environmental review was only one aspect of the overall project, and the rejection of that review does not necessarily reflect a rejection of the project as a whole.
Cheryl Coldiron, the art committee’s junior member and a native Petaluman said she was pleased to see such strong public engagement.
“I love that Petaluma residents are getting more engaged with public art,” Coldiron said.
Now, members of the Public Art Committee are ready to get back to the drawing board, hoping that a positive solution can step from the process.
Goggin said in a text message that he is open to finding a solution that will best fit the project and the needs of the community.
“I look forward to working with the Petaluma (Public) Art Committee to find a location for ‘Fine Balance,’” Goggin said.
Goggin, as well as committee members, said they still are unsure of what to expect from discussion come Thursday, but are remaining hopeful for the project’s future.
“All of us are creatives in our own capacities,” Abercrombie said. “Right now we’re being called, whether we respond to the call or not to work together toward something better. So that’s the goal right now.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story wasn’t clear about the nature of the interview with Brian Goggin. Goggin declined a phone interview, but responded to written questions.
Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus Courier. She can be reached at [email protected] or 707-521-5208.