A meeting Wednesday night to advise three artists bidding to create artwork for BART’s 24th and Mission Street plaza turned into a heated exchange between residents and BART officials over the lack of local artists selected as finalists for the job.
After the three artists showed examples of their previous projects to a crowd of 40 Mission residents, audience questions for planner Rube Warren and public art consultant Regina Almaguer set an angry and suspicious tone.
“Where are the artists from?” asked Miguel Bustos. “I’m disappointed there aren’t any Mission artists among the group. As a taxpayer, I would love to see local artists be part of this.” The room erupted in applause.
Two of the three finalists, Kipp Kobayashi and Anne Marie Karlsen, reside in Los Angeles, while the third, Charles Sowers, is from San Rafael.
Warren and Almaguer tried in vain to placate the room, insisting that the selection process involved an open call for artists. The three finalists were selected from a five-member group that included residents of the Mission District, they said.
“We tried to limit the selection to the Bay Area but we didn’t get responses,” said Warren. “The challenge that we faced is that the artists must have completed two public art projects.”
Almaguer reminded the audience that the selection committee extended the contest deadline in May of this year due to a lack of applicants.
“I feel embarrassed,” said Mauricio Aviles. “You missed a step in informing the community about the selection process. We are a mecca of murals, and I want to see art that reflects who we are.”
Warren, who is also a Mission resident, advised the audience that the plan had to move forward or its funding would be lost.
“I devoted more than a decade of my career to make something happen here,” Warren said, referring to the project, which received a majority of its $3.2 million funding in the last two years.
“We brought good artists and they are going to be involved,” said Tom Radulovich, BART director for the 9th District. “Give them room to create.”
The artists listened to the debate in silence. Members of the community repeatedly expressed their appreciation for the art, insisting that their objections weren’t personal.
Many mocked a questionnaire entitled, “What I’d like the artists to know about the 24th Street/Mission neighborhood,” for its simplicity and inability to express the Mission’s distinct attributes. Others expressed concern that artwork that didn’t reflect the Mission might be destroyed.
The three finalists offered the crowd a presentation of their previous installations, ranging from etched and mosaic pieces to kinetic sculpture.
Sowers, the only Bay Area finalist, has been an exhibit developer at San Francisco’s Exploratorium for the last 14 years.
“Everything I do is kinetic. I try to set up the conditions for something to happen and let nature take over,” he said while presenting his latest exhibit, “Windswept,” which is installed at the Randall Museum. The piece consists of 500 arrows that move independently with the direction of the wind.
BART officials said the contract for construction of the new plaza would be awarded this December, with building beginning in January. The redesign is scheduled to be completed in October of 2013.
Warren proposed that the community supply the planning committee with a specific process for collaborating with local artists in the design of the 24th Street BART plaza.
The three finalists are scheduled to present their proposals for the plaza art around Christmas, he added.