Public Art on State Street

By Joanne A Calitri   |   April 12, 2018
Luis Velazquez’s “Paper Airplane” one-ton iron sculpture on exhibit at the State of the Art Gallery exhibition, State Street Santa Barbara

Titled State of the Art Gallery Exhibition, the new public art installation of eight sculptural works on State Street officially opened on April 5 as part of the monthly First Thursday Art Walk. Although that day a 5.3 earthquake, centered off shore from Santa Cruz Island, shook Montecito and SB ramping social media, the event had a fair-size crowd cruising the main drag, which co-existed with a much smaller event, Peace in Paradise, at Casa de la Guerra held at the same time.

Mayor Cathy Murillo and project sponsor Santa Barbara Beautiful cut the ribbon for its opening, re-inaugurating the once annual State Street sculptural event that had disappeared for the past decade. Taking two years to nurture its re-establishment, kudos go to Sarah York Rubin, executive director Santa Barbara Office of Arts & Culture [SBCOAC] and doing so against unforeseen odds. With a less-than-attractive budget that awarded a paltry $750 per artist for their work, submissions barely topped 30 for the entire SB County area. Timing was not supportive either, as after the November 2, 2017, call for entries with a January 1, 2018, deadline, the County was engulfed in a massive fire. When the submission deadline was extended, three times to be precise, the ensuing mudslides and evacuations likely subverted entries. 

The award committee began receiving proposals reflective of the disasters. The call was open to all professional artists or artist teams at least 18 years old, who work or reside in Santa Barbara County. Artists were allowed to submit more than one proposal and the review process was “name blind” to ensure impartiality. As a result, one artist was selected twice to exhibit two works. Rubin’s selection panel comprised representatives from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, the SB City Arts Advisory Committee, SB Downtown Organization (State Street business owners), the SB Arts Collaborative, the SB Historic Landmarks Commission, and SB County Arts Commission.

From the eight-corner sidewalk installations, it wasn’t difficult to decide which ones actually represent bona-fide, high-end, and interesting sculptural works: the one-ton, one-story brightly painted iron sculpture titled “Paper Airplane” by Luis Velazquez that resembles a sheet of yellow note paper shaped into a paper airplane; a tall rectangular intricately interlaced stainless-steel construction titled “Tesseract” by Nathan Snyder; a bare steel gigantic human-like frame called “Hammerhead” by Michael Irwin who will next month “dress” the frame with local pampas grass to revive it with life and movement; and the brightly painted red steel moving blades of grass standing eight feet high known as “Leaves of Grass” by Pattie Porter Firestone

Artist Nathan Snyder with his sculpture “Tesseract” at the exhibition’s opening

Much public attention surrounded Snyder as he stood next to his work in front of Montecito Bank & Trust on State Street answering questions and posing for photos with his “Tesseract”. He told me that he created the work specifically for the exhibit, even though artists could submit previous works: “This M.C. Escher-like steel vertical maze is my expression of what I was coming out of, a state of confusion and chaos to serenity, and at point with what just happened in the community, we’re finding a little bit of more order and serenity, I think, in our lives.” 

Others gathered just as strongly around the “Paper Airplane” and red “Leaves of Grass”, amused with the artist’s whimsy and awed by the amount of work that went into the creation of it. One of the panelists representing the SB City Arts Advisory Committee stated the following: “We strongly believe that art experiences, like this special installation of public sculpture, are an economic driver for communities like ours. And that any opportunities to enhance the downtown visitor experience can only benefit our local business and local artists alike.” 

Therefore, in that regard, a Robert Studley-Forrest Hugheshonorable mention goes to Patrick Melroy for “Public Flag Pole” and “California Love Locks”, Danielle Siano with “Story-Catcher Mailbox”, and Brooke Smiley & Daria Izad for “Permission To Heal”, whereby their works exist in relation to the efforts of the public to interface with it.

To sum it up wisely, my hat’s off to SB City Arts Advisory vice chair and Sullivan Goss Gallery owner Nathan Vonk, who shared, “Having public art on State Street is an invaluable way for us to communicate to both locals and visitors that we have an incredibly rich creative community, and that art is an important part of our local culture.” Indeed, let’s give this another go with more generous funding to attract an even higher artistic level reflective of our town.


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