Juana Alicia Araiza, a longtime artist renowned in the Mission for her murals, moved one step closer Monday afternoon to adorning a 120-square foot window at the Mission branch of the San Francisco Public Library with glass artwork featuring the nopal cactus.
A panel of four voting reviewers selected Araiza’s design as the most suitable of three designs. The finalists who designed them had been selected earlier from a shortlist of 19 artists.
The designs were proposed to fill the large arched window in front of the library’s main stairway with glass artwork nearly nine-by-eight feet in size. The library branch, which has been closed since March, 2020, is expected to begin renovations this winter and reopen after 18 to 25 months.
The two other designs came from Josué Rojas and Javier Rocabado, each an artist who is or was based in the Mission. Each will also receive an honorarium for their designs, according to the panel.
Read more about the designs and the muralists behind them
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…
“The people I was competing against are wonderful artists, and I love them, and Josué has been like a son or a nephew to me, and I want to tip my hat to them and to really honor their work,” Araiza told Mission Local after the scoring.
The panel will recommend Araiza’s design to the Visual Arts Committee at the committee’s meeting next Wednesday, Aug. 18, at 3 p.m. With the committee’s blessing, the design would go before the Arts Commission for a Sept. 13 vote.
The budget to cover design, fabrication and transportation of the artwork is $71,500.
The panelists’ scoring followed an enormous show of community feedback, where more than 300 public comments were submitted between July 22 and Aug. 5, according to Aleta Lee, the public art manager at the Arts Commission who presented the project at the meeting.
“That’s really amazing, just because typically we don’t get those large numbers, so you can really tell that there’s a huge commitment from the community and the neighborhood to really have their feedback on the proposals and the work,” Lee said.
Though each glass design received praise as outstanding artwork, most panelists considered Araiza’s the most well-rounded and suitable, in no small part because they felt her design did the best job at using all 120 square feet — and doing so with a symbol recognized in the Mission and beyond: the nopal cactus.
“It is a symbol of resistance under difficult conditions, a tree that blooms in the desert, serves as delicious and nutritious sustenance, and regenerates easily,” Araiza said. “It connects us all geographically with the rest of the Americas to the south.”
The decision to feature the nopal resonated strongly among community members and most panelists.
“I have to support Juana Alicia’s proposal over the others’ because of depth of narrative there and long roots that go into the ideas across the Americas, where the most precious thing we have to offer is our culture and our learning and our knowledge to our children, and those symbols — the nopal and the fruits of the nopal — refer to that precious knowledge that we pass on,” said Teresa Carrillo, one of Monday’s public commenters.
Francisco Vazquez, another commenter, added, “I imagine walking up stairs of the library and looking up at a monumental nopal rising against what looks like a sunrise.”
Oscar Grande, another commenter, showed support for Rojas’ design, which used the Mission’s iconic red and blue tile, found along Mission Street.
“His piece, his proposal — I’m in absolute love with it,” Grande said. “I’m not an art critic, I’m not versed in art. But I know what I like, and I know what I see. Visually, it’s stunning. It feels very street. It feels graffiti. It feels very Mission. It feels very Frisco to me.”
Araiza and Rojas’ designs gathered roughly the same amount of support from the 300-plus public comments submitted, according to Ramon Hernandez, the Mission’s Adult Services branch manager.
That said, these comments weren’t counted toward the scoring, due to artists knowing different groups of people and having different social networks, said Lee, the Arts Commission’s public arts manager.
The panel included Valerie Imus, artistic director and co-director at Southern Exposure; Angelica Rodriguez, gallery coordinator at the Mission Cultural Center; Arts Commissioner Abby Schnair; and Hernandez, the Adult Services branch manager. The non-voting members of the panel were Mary Chou, senior program manager at the Arts Commission, and Andrew Sohn, Mission Branch Library project architect at Public Works.
Araiza’s design edged out Rojas’, 76-74, when the panelists scored points based on artistic merit (7), relevant skills and experience (3), alignment with project goals (7) and appropriateness for the site (3). Rocabado’s lost some points for featuring an interpretation of the symbol for Día de los Muertos, which panelists said might be viewed as seasonal, associated with Halloween or considered scary by children.
“I gave it my shot, and I gave it my best — we all did — and so I think we all deserve some credit for that,” Rojas told Mission Local after the vote. “It’s particularly hard to do it so publicly, but it’s all part of the life of an arts professional. That’s the field, and that’s what I do — can’t be mad at that. I’m sure it’ll be a beautiful piece, and I will enjoy seeing it for years to come.”
You can view the three proposals online here.