Valencia Street under construction

In a public meeting held by the San Francisco Arts Commission on Wednesday, the contest between two-headed squirrels, a metal net, a boat made of bicycles, and a handful of Victorian posts finally came to an end. The posts won.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Michael Arcega, the designer behind “Valencia Street Post,” a collection of six posts inspired by Victorian architecture and the winner of the Valencia Streetscape Public Art Project.

The Victorian-crowned posts, which will line Valencia Street between 16th and 19th streets by the end of 2009, are a nod to the Mission’s  architectural history. But they were also designed with an eye toward modern culture and, to that end, will be used as bulletin boards for “flyers for punk shows, lost dog alerts and job ads, among other things,” Arcega said.

During the meeting, Arcega said that he came up with the utilitarian aspect of his design after spending time in the Mission and noticing how public spaces, such as telephone poles and building fronts, are used as canvasses for community expression.

Born in the Philippines, Arcega has been in the United States since he was ten years old and has been living in Hayes Valley for the past 13 years. He currently works out of a studio at The Headland Center for The Arts in Sausalito. The budget for his project is set at $52,000, which includes production costs and the artist’s payment.

Valencia Street under construction

In his proposal Arcega wrote, “the vibrancy of the Mission can literally be observed in postings, scrawls, graffiti, messages, drawings, paintings, ads, and other forms of communication.” Of the four projects, Arcega’s alone offered a physical engagement between the art and the public.

Mission District artist Brian Goggin’s design, “Faro,” a statue resembling a huge boat made of bicycle parts, was a close runner-up in the decision, but was ultimately voted down. “I just don’t think it’s aesthetically pleasing,” said one panel member. Many others agreed.

The other two designs, a floating metal net called “Cast of Sorrows” by Ana Teresa Fernandez and an unnamed collection of hybridized animal sculptures by Misako Inaoka, were also well-liked among panel members, but were ultimately turned down as well.

Fernandez’s design was perhaps the toughest to reject, as the decision seemed to be budget related. “I’d really love to see this piece work,” said panelist Kevin Chen, program director at Intersection For The Arts. “But to do it right we’d need more money.” Inaoka’s design was also praised by panel members but ultimately dismissed.

The panelists made their decision quick and did not argue, but at least one member of the audience wasn’t happy. “I jovially play and frolic in the Mission and I want to be able to enjoy great art while I’m doing that,” said Natalie Villalobos, the only person attending the meeting who was unaffiliated with the art’s commission. “I know I’m not going to play with those street posts though. I just don’t understand how they’ll be any different from the posts that are already there.”

She preferred Goggin’s design. As for concerns that Goggin’s bicycle boat was aesthetically questionable, Villalobos disagreed. “Bicycles are a huge part of this neighborhood and I don’t think that’s going to change,” she said. Other members of the community were given the chance to voice their opinions in writing at The Mission Cultural Center where the proposals were on display for the last two weeks. These opinions were considered privately by the panel but not discussed at Wednesday’s meeting.

The decision was ultimately made by the ad hoc neighborhood selection panel comprised of neighborhood representatives, arts professionals, and a project architect from the Department of Public Works.

Arcega’s design will now be passed through a final selection process during which the 13-member Arts Committee is expected to green-light its manufacturing and installation.

“There is, however, a very slight possibility that the commission will disagree with the panel and recommend that we start the process over again,” said Kate Patterson, the spokesperson for commission. “But that’s very rare.”

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Justin Juul is a freelance writer based in San Francisco's Mission District. He covers culture, arts, entertainment, and city living.

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  1. I found this article through an Advanced Search as these things are going up now, look very bizarre, and will no doubt have to be there forever as they are “artwork” !! They look just like those mock architectural birdhouses that were so popular in the 1980s. Only these are not for birdies, they are old telephone poles with these “birdhouse’ models as caps so that people can post garish free advertising flyers, and slowly coat the posts with heavy-duty construction staples as they did the old telephone poles prior to utility under-grounding !!! I think it is about time to pull the plug on The San Francisco Arts Commission.

  2. Responding to Kenlo’s comment:
    Kenlo,I know Brian Goggin very well and I have been close to him during this whole process.
    I can tell you for a fact that the accusations about Goggin rallying fans for a recall are completely unfair and untrue.
    Brian is one of the most generous and compassionate persons that I know.
    Of course he felt sad and disappointed when he heard that Faro was not selected, as any artist would feel after putting so much effort and soul into a project and not getting it.
    But he acted as a gentleman and even expressed his support to Michael for winning.
    If the Arts Comission made a mistake in the votes, I think it is the fair decision for them to meet again and do a new vote. Wouldn’t you want the same if you were in a similar position? This is fair for all the artists involved.
    Also…..Why is Brian’s fault that so many people from the community wrote in support of his piece?
    The Arts Comission’s idea of accepting comments from the public was part of this process and must be respected.

    Florencia Aleman

  3. I like the original choice of Michael Arcega’s proposal. They are live,interactive parts of the community on the street level, and an architectural homage to the past on top. These monuments feel timeless and solid. They point more more to the community than the artist.

  4. No amount of niche-popularity and connection-driven “outcry” should affect this vote.

    I ride my bicycle down Valencia every day, and while I support that aspect of the Mission’s culture, Arcega’s work provides more conceptual rigor through its functionality and aesthetic simplicity than does Goggin’s. The best public art is influenced by and blends into the architecture of its surroundings. Arcega’s proposal does this in a subtle, functional, and profound way that will integrate over time and age with the neighborhood. Goggin’s piece on the other hand, suffers from a “look-at-me” aesthetic that honestly, comes off as an anachronism for SF in 2009. His proposal would be more well-suited on Haight Ashbury – but definitely not Valencia Street.

    1. So, what happened? Did the Commission decide to have a new vote. We have e-mails in, but you all seem to be ahead of the story. Thank you, Lydia Chavez

  5. Why is this contest even up for a re-vote? Here’s what I heard. The judges, after a long process of scrutiny awarded Michael Arcega the commission. However, Brian Goggin had mobilized friends, and friends of friends, to write in and advocate on his behalf. I’m friends with 3 of the 4 finalists, as well as one or two of the judges, and I have never met Mr. Goggin. We share mutual friends, and he sounds like a nice man. I have nothing personally against him, but what’s happening here in giving so much weight to voices from the “community” is turning this into a high school popularity contest. Now the other artists are forced to mobilize their own fanbase to show they have advocates in the “community” as well. Who has more friends, Michael Arcega, or Brian Goggin? This isn’t even about art anymore. I suspect SFAC is playing politics, trying to placate Goggin’s fanbase with a re-vote. SFAC should not have allowed itself to have been bullied into reconsidering a piece they don’t believe in, deeming it “not pleasing aesthetically”. SFAC should have stood by their initial decision and maintained the award to Michael Arcega.

  6. The steampunk bicycle thing is nice, but trendy; the posts will age more gracefully. And I love what the artist says about them.

  7. I think Michael Arcega’s proposal carries a true affection for, and awareness of, the dynamism of the Mission.
    I’m excited to see how his posts will affect our ideas about community information and communication.

  8. I actually think they should leave the torn up sidewalks in their current state. It perfectly reflects and aesthetically represents the “San Francisco Values” of our city’s planners and decision-makers: total hostility towards cyclists and pedestrians, and the priority given to lazy, entitled drivers to drive every damn place, no matter how crowded, righteously honking bikes and peds out of the way, and tacitly threatening to run them over with a push on the gas. Cities are for cars, not people or art, duh. I think they should complete the deal, and just close it to all but cars. Share the road, get out of their way.

  9. Congratulations Mike! Beautiful, thoughtful work I look forward to seeing.
    I am always skeptical of public art, or as someone once called it “Plop Art”! I feel these sculptures will be a great addition to the neighborhood, and a synthesis with the artist’s work. All the artists are very talented and I’m sure it was a difficult decision for the panel.
    Also, regarding the comment that the posts aren’t “very mission”, I disagree– look at all of the aging Victorian houses in the neighborhood– it’s one part of SF where this architecture remains.

  10. Congratulations to Michael! Anyone who has seen his work has most likely been impressed by his attention to detail and craftsmanship as well as concept. Bicycles ARE a big part of the Mission community, but this is something that can appeal to a wider audience.

  11. Brian Goggins ‘Faro’ is the better choice for the neighborhood.
    I hope the Arts commitee reviews the selected piece.
    With no disrespect to the chosen artist, the ‘art posts’ look like something that belong in disneyland and not on authentic Valencia Street.