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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.

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Heather Smith covers a beat that spans health, food, and the environment, as well as shootings, stabbings, various small fires, and shouting matches at public meetings. She is a 2007 Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism and a contributor to the book Infinite City.

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  1. As a mother of two, it is impossible to get out to a meeting on any weeknight so I am happy to have a chance to contribute here. I am aware that some of the newly renovated parks have not taken into consideration the needs of children. It is important for a fence to be around the play area to keep kids contained, they run and don’t pay attention to what they are doing. They need free play space where parents don’t have to be hypervigilant about cars, driveways, dogs and dog pee/poop, syringes, glass, etc… A dog free area and maybe a separate fenced area for a dog run would be good, that would help contain the dog waste and the damage they do to the grass/plant.

  2. I don’t know a lot about art, but art in people lives is good.

    This playground was the second one on the scheduled list from the February 2008 bond money, and has 7.5 million dollars in the bank. But almost nothing seems to be happening. The building is closed, it is not staffed. That does not make the park clean and safe. The bathrooms are locked. That does not make the park clean and safe. The meeting talked about changing some windows, shuffling the bathroom, and doing a fence, stuff that you could not image could cost 7.5 million dollars. They can build many house for seven million dollars if the land is already owned, to talk about changing a bathroom and fence costing 7.5 million dollars did not seem to make sense. The field being turfed with artificial turf was to be paid by the cityfields foundation. What has happened to this project and why is it so far behind schedule, why is the price so high for such a little amount of changes. Thanks for reporting on this, Mission Local.

  3. Why are they continuing to have a fence on the Valencia side of the park? The fence that’s there now seems to be what keeps most people from wanting to use that part of the park. If the idea is to keep people out of the park at night, it’s obviously not working.

  4. Michael should be muraling the entire Mission! These folks would be fools to pass up this opportunity to have one of the world’s preeminent modern illustrators paint the fence!

  5. I was one of the few neighbors that attended! It was great to see his beautiful work and I am excited to see the project develop in this park that we love. One concern we discussed was how will the designed panels on the 19th street-side support/flow with the murals on the walls of the pool. It may help to have less or No colors on the 19th street-side fence and keep the colors and more whimsical display to the Valencia-side. The 19th street side could have a more sophisticated iron gate design that doesn’t compete with the murals, rather the iron gate would honor or support the murals that have been there for many years. I would love to see the Valencia street-side represent the more whimsical + colorful-side for kids and make that side more inviting to enter as it is not inviting for neighbors to enter right now. Thanks again.

  6. I suggest they ask people at the park for ideas, maybe on a late weekday afternoon or weekend. Kids have good ideas, too, their imagination being less fenced in. Thanks for the images. I like the rhythm of his style.