Large sculpture may come to Vallejo soon

By John Glidden, Vallejo Times-Herald | Photo by Meike Gugel

A large art piece currently installed at the San Francisco waterfront may soon make its way to the city of Vallejo.

The Vallejo City Council unanimously approved a motion Tuesday night to direct city staff to begin negotiations with a local artist about installing her SOMA sculpture in Vallejo.

Standing 28 feet tall, and occupying a space of about 40 feet by 25 feet wide, the sculpture is a representation of two neurons connected by an axon bridge, according to city staff. It was built for the 2009 Burning Man event and has been on display at Pier 14 in San Francisco for the past year, staff added.

Made entirely of stainless steel, the sculpture would only be on exhibit in Vallejo for two years.

Several of the councilmembers expressed support for bringing the sculpture to the city.

“It’s a significant piece of art,” Councilwoman Pippin Dew-Costa said during the meeting.

She said the city “needs to take advantage” of the offer made by the artists comprised of the Flaming Lotus Girls, and local Vallejoan, Caroline Miller, who is a member of the group.

Mayor Osby Davis said he didn’t like the proposed placement of the sculpture at Unity Plaza, near the John F. Kennedy Library.

Davis added that a more suitable location would be the Marina Vista Memorial Park behind City Hall and the library.

Public Works Director David Kleinschmidt confirmed SOMA would cover up extensive public art embedded in the Unity Plaza concrete.

The sculpture requires 32 anchor bolts for stability.

“From a public works standpoint, I’m concerned of the integrity and ability to restore the (location),” he said to the council.

Miller said she has secure assistance to restore the Unity Plaza concrete once SOMA is removed.

“I promise to put it back in the same condition it is now,” she said to the council.

Councilwoman Katy Miessner disagreed with Davis, stating the Unity Plaza location is perfect to connect the waterfront and downtown Vallejo.

Prior to council discussion, several members of the public spoke, with many in favor of the proposal.

Local artist Kathy O’Hare advocated for the Unity Plaza location stating the sculpture would be seen from the ferry terminal, which would draw people to the downtown area.

“It’s a wonderful, visual piece, especially at night,” O’Hare said about SOMA.

The sculpture also includes 70 custom LED lights.

Vallejo activist Doug Darling asked the council to “exhibit municipal responsibility” and not approve the placement of SOMA in Vallejo until the city developed a public art plan.

He said the council and city has put off developing such a plan, and to accept the sculpture now would be “unethical.”

To symbolize his point about the council delaying a public art policy, he kicked a can down the ramp to the speaker’s podium before speaking.

Miller said the Flaming Lotus Girls art group will pay for installation and maintenance costs associated with SOMA’s stay in Vallejo.

According to a staff report, the city contends it will cost less than $5,000 in staff time to develop an ordinance authorizing SOMA’s placement in Vallejo. However, it’s not known yet how much staff time will be needed to negotiate a contract between the artist and city, staff added.

City Manager Daniel Keen said working on this item would force staff to postpone other city projects.

Under a motion offered by Councilman Robert McConnell city staff will work with the artist for a mutual agreed location for the placement of SOMA. The motion also stipulates the artist is responsible and assumes the risk for the sculpture being placed in the city.