En Español

It is a fact of civic life that a meeting about playground art held on a cold Tuesday night in an unheated clubhouse tucked away behind a soccer field and a closed-down swimming pool is going to be a sparsely attended meeting. As in: six people, three of whom are Arts Commission employees.

But that only means that the people who do show up are the ones that are very, very sincere. “This park is so multi-use,” says a woman in the back of the room. “The range of ages and span of users is huge. There’s the tennis court, the soccer field, the families that use the playground, the homeless people, the dog people. I just hope that your project can reflect some of that diversity.”

“I’ll try,” says Michael Bartalos: printmaker, postage stamp illustrator observer of Antarctic waste management, and now, park fence designer.

Many Mission residents only know the Mission Playground at Valencia as a dark patch of grass behind an enormous chain-link fence. But even on the aforementioned cold Tuesday night, the park is bustling. A lively soccer match is going on in one cement court, and there is indeed a conclave of men with heavily loaded shopping carts off to one side.

The playground, is being rehabbed with money from a 2008 park bond. Among the scheduled renovations: The courts and the play area will be fixed up the courts, the clubhouse will be remodeled, the chain-link fence will be taken down and replaced with a more attractive fence.

Which is where Bartalos comes in. The meeting was held to get aesthetic input from the neighborhood. Bartalos gave a Powerpoint presentation of recent works, including the stamp “It’s every artists dream to do one of these, because everyone has to design one in college and no one has any hope then of actually getting to do one. It was released during Hispanic history month and I got flown all over the place.” He pauses. “That was my 15 minutes of fame.”

He told the crowd, such as it was, that he was thinking of designing the panels so that they told a story, and that animals were a common theme in his work.“ Are you open to having imagery of animals that don’t exist in the park?” he said, with an air of slight nervousness. “Friendly alligators and elephants?”

“I don’t want it to be dominated by child imagery,” said the same woman. “There are adult swimmers and soccer players that use this park.”

“I don’t want it to look like the 16th street BART stop,” said another “It’s such a literal interpretation of an ethnic design. I don’t like that rainbow effect.”

“My feeling is that the fence is not going to be super colorful” said Bartalos earnestly. “I don’t want to compete with those murals.”

Bartalos was selected out of a group of 13 artists who were invited by the Arts Commission to submit proposals. As it turns out, he’s also a Mission resident who actually uses the playground. “It’s a real honor to be doing art in a place where I bring my kids. Ever since I got this project, I’ve started to notice things in playgrounds that I’ve never noticed before.”

Bartalos will submit his proposal for the fence in early April, at which point the arts commission will begin to review the design. The fence – and the rest of the park – is scheduled to be finished in early 2012.

Do you have any ideas and suggestions for the fence? Post them here, and Mission Loc@l will relay them to Bartalos and the San Francisco Arts Commission.