“It was pulling teeth but we made it!” screamed one of the jurors after five hours, three round of votes, and eight sandwiches.

The selection panel put together by the Public Art Commission had made up its mind. Phew.

The three artists  chosen to present an art proposal for the Valencia Improvement Project are in order of the panel’s preference, Misako Inaoka and tied for second,  Brian Goggin and Michael Arcega.  All are Mission residents except Arcega who lives in the Hayes Valley/Tenderloin zip code.

The meeting started at 11 a.m. with a quick refresher on the Valencia Streetscape Improvement Project between 15th and 19th streets: more trees, more usable sidewalk, bike racks, new lighting.

Then,  the screening of the candidate’s images began.

The selection panel of six included, the two art experts appointed by the city: Carolina Ponce de Leon, director of Galeria de la Raza and Kevin B. Chen, program director at Intersection for the Arts Two Mission community representatives: Clare Hyland, designer, and Elizabeth Aife Murray, a writer and artist. And finally two landscape architects from the Department of Public Works: John Dennis and Martha Ketterer.  The group directors:  Tonia Macneil, project manager, and Marcus Davies, registrar for the Public Art and Collections.

Macneil asked the panelists to look at the artists’ images and decide yes, no or maybe.   After a few mili-seconds, the  question came : “Can you tell us a little more about them?” So, the rules changed and quick bios were given. When the first round vote began,  Murray, one of the community representatives, had a  hard time making up her mind. “Guilt,” she said, about the inevitable fact that some artists would not make it to the second round.

But no time for tears, the second round ensued and this is where it got exciting.  Ponce de Leon, from Galeria de la Raza and Chen from Intersection  took the discussion to another level. While  Macneil read through the bios and concepts as fast as she could in the first round,  the two experts jumped into the debate in the second round.   They talked about each artist they knew and offered eye-opening information  new to most of the panelists. “I am not trying to advocate for such and such but..” Chen started each sentence.

Nevertheless, most of the artists he and Ponce de Leon gave input on, turned out to be finalists.

Inaoka was chosen for her “sense of space” and because she is an “emerging artist.” Macneil said Inaoka “explores the boundary between the natural and the artificial.”  The pictures showed a bunch of quirky silver miniature creatures. Her “Horsecycle,”  for instance, has the head of a horse, the body of a chick, and two wheels instead of legs.  Her “Walker”  is  a parrot pushing a walker.

Inaoka also works with landscape. In her “Urban Habitat Restoration,” she covered the ceiling of a room in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts with dried moss.

Numero 2 on the list was  Goggin who tied in votes with Orcega. Goggin is also an animal lover and quite well known in the Bay Area. No novice here. He has already created numerous public art projects. “Language of the Birds”  is in North Beach and represents flying luminous books that take off like birds and “Defenestration,” is an installation in which cast-off furniture becomes a sculptural mural on an abandoned hotel on the corner of Sixth and Howard streets.

Numero 2 bis,  Arcega, who is known for his  humor and work on immigration. He created a series of maps made of Spam meat. As he writes on his website, “Spam’s diasporic nature is symbolic of America’s ongoing influence on many nations. S-P-A-M is M-A-P-S in reverse.”

So, yes, it took five hours, because the panelists were  eager to have as much detail on each of the 24 artists.  The two dozen had been selected by the San Francisco Art Commission from 326 artists who had applied to the Bay Area Artists registry. Long process.

Now what?  In about three weeks, the finalists will attend an orientation meeting with the community to hear what the community wants.  After that, the artists will prepare  proposals based on a $ 52 000  budget.  Those will be on public display for two weeks in the Mission. Neither the location nor the date has been determined. Between August and September, the selection panel will meet again to decide on the final winner. Suspense, suspense.