The doors of Mission branch of the San Francisco Public Library are closed, but somewhere in there, a window has opened.
Well, technically, the window itself is sealed shut. But when the building reopens after an extensive $19.8 million renovation, the Mission’s latest public art project will replace the old window on the second floor of the library at 24th and Bartlett streets.
A window of opportunity, if you will.
Proposals from three local artists are currently available for public comment and, on Aug. 9, a panel will vote on which piece will sit in the filled-in window space in the newly renovated library.
The arched glass piece to replace the upstairs window will be close to nine feet by eight feet in size, and backlit on the second floor of the library. The idea is to create “a stained glass effect,” said Aleta Lee, project manager of the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Public Art Program, clarifying that glass can be translated in many different ways.
Juana Alicia Araiza, Javier Rocabado, and Josue Rojas are the three artists chosen from a shortlist of 19 artists.
All are or have been based in the Mission, Lee said. “The panelists really saw their history and what they brought to the neighborhood and are familiar with their artwork.”
“The Mission is such a vibrant [place], and such a place with so much art in it. But it’s great to be able to have a permanent location for an artwork in a place that is a huge resource to the community,” Lee continued.
The artwork commission project budget of $71,500 includes the artist fee, design, fabrication and transportation of the artwork. All three finalists will receive an honorarium for their proposal.
The proposals are available to view online and are also posted in the doors of the library on 24th Street, which has been closed since the start of the pandemic in March, 2020. Renovations are expected to begin this winter and take 18 to 25 months, meaning a reopening would be in mid-2023, at the earliest.
Public comment on the three local artists’ proposals will be open until Aug. 5 at 5 p.m.: Commenters can submit their thoughts on the San Francisco Arts Commission website or can email email@example.com.
The public also has the option to sit in on the panel’s Aug. 9 meeting from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and offer live public comment, under the Public Meeting section of the Arts Commission website.
The project is made possible by a section in the City Administrative Code mandating that 2 percent of the estimated construction cost for above-ground projects go to art enrichment. Garfield Pool, which recently reopened after two-and-a-half years of being closed for renovations, features a 113-foot-long glass mural by another local artist.
An artist review panel made up of mostly Mission community members will take place on Aug. 9 and select one finalist’s work, taking public comments into consideration. The proposal will then have to be approved by the Arts Commission’s Visual Arts Committee, then later by the Arts Commission.
Javier Rocabado is an artist with public art projects around the Bay Area, including Oakland, Hayward and Antioch and, of course, here in San Francisco. Originally from Bolivia and having lived in many places since leaving, Rocabado, who now lives in the East Bay near El Cerrito, said he spent 20 years in the Mission before he was priced out.
“My heart is still there,” he said. His approach to the project was to highlight a bit of the community’s history that he witnessed over the years, with a focus on the tradition of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The celebration started out as an at-home celebration, but eventually became a more communal tradition in San Francisco in the 1970s, through the work of artists like René Yañez.
“It didn’t just appear here like ‘pop,’” Rocabado said. His proposal is “a representation of what we are as Latinos, what we have given to our community in San Francisco [like] the Day of the Dead, and [a reminder] to be proud of our traditions and to always remember what we are.”
Rocabado included symbols of different significant struggles the Mission has endured, and the organizations that formed to unite, organize, and take care of the people here.
An artist from day one, Rocabado made his own toys out of clay and went to art school at age 12, but detoured for a while to study accounting, thinking art wasn’t a “professional” trade or serious career path. Before long, however, he realized he had to be true to himself.
He eventually attended the Academy of Art University, worked at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and ran an art gallery at 16th and Valencia for a few years. The library project would be his first time working with glass as a medium.
The library installation would also be Josue Rojas’ first time creating a glass piece, but this “nerd for paint” plans to incorporate some of his primary medium into the piece.
Rojas was raised in the Mission District, where he arrived as a toddler from El Salvador and quickly began his art education in his own neighborhood. “Before there were museums or galleries or art school or anything of the sort in my life … there were murals,” Rojas said.
In his proposal for the library installation, Rojas incorporated the Mission’s iconic blue and red tile, which can be found on certain stretches of the sidewalks of Mission Street. Rojas said the Mission tile is the local version of the Spanish and Portuguese azulejo, a traditional ceramic tile which is found across Latin America and other former colonies.
Having spent a lot of time in this particular library growing up, Rojas sees it as a “transformative space” where he discovered music, and through it, was exposed to the world beyond. “It’s a space for growth as a community, but also as an individual — you can kind of retreat into yourself and nurture yourself, and then sort of grow.”
His concept shows inward-facing hands nurturing a single Mission tile, which can be interpreted as the self, or perhaps encompasses the Mission community as a whole.
“Murals always will have a kind of a didactic nature, so a big part of the work is educating the community. We’re imagining a thing together, right?” Rojas said. “Firstly, it’s a learning experience for the artist, but it’s also a learning experience for the community in that we are learning to articulate our values and putting those out publicly.”
Titled “Azulejos y Cerca,” a play on the idea of lejos y cerca (far and near), Rojas said his colorful multi-textured piece is an abstraction of the Mission’s multicoloredness and multiculturality. More literally, he includes a colorful flower bunch to represent the flor y canto (flower and song) — meant as “a nod to the poets and our rich poetic tradition.”
Also an art educator and formerly the executive director of Acción Latina, Rojas recently decided to focus on making art full time. He has worked on different murals in the neighborhood, including the Birds of the Americas series, and is currently working on a mural in Balmy Alley.
Juana Alicia Araiza
One of Rojas’ mentors is muralist Juana Alicia Araiza, previously a full-time faculty member at Berkeley City College, where Rojas helped her teach a public art class.
“They’re both my friends!” Araiza said of Rojas and Rocabado, laughing at the idea of them all competing for the commission.
Araiza’s plans for the library installation focus on the nopal cactus, which “has been, for Latinx and Mexicana people, a symbol of resistance and flourishing under the harshest of conditions.”
“Part of the purpose of this project, as presented to us by the Arts Commission,” Araiza said, “is to balance representation, to bring in a different optic on who is important in the intellectual and creative world of the library.”
Traditionally full of tributes to European writers, the library Araiza envisions brings the Americas into the picture. She wants her installation to include a QR code people can scan to click on the different pencas (leaves) to learn about the underrepresented literary legacy of the Mission and beyond.
Araiza describes her own journey with a cactus-like metaphor: “The path was twisted and winding and full of thorns,” she said. The daughter of a migrant worker, she spent her childhood in Detroit, designed posters for the United Farm Workers and was recruited by Cesar Chavez to come to Salinas during the labor movement. After getting her degrees, she ended up in San Francisco in the early 80s to work as a muralist and teacher.
Today a longtime art figure in the Mission District who Rojas refers to as “a legend” and “a master,” Araiza painted many iconic Mission murals including “La Llorona’s Sacred Waters” at 24th and York, and others at the SF Mime Troupe building on Treat Street and the Women’s Building on 18th Street. She was eventually evicted from the Mission, and now splits her time between Yucatán and Berkeley, after having retired as an educator there five years ago.
“For me, this would be sort of a legacy piece or a love letter to the Mission and to the writers of our community,” Araiza said.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (415) 252-2100.
UPDATE: This story was updated after the proposals and the public comment form were made available.