Local artist Jovi Schnell and the San Francisco Arts Commission recently initiated an unexpected art project at Tutubi Plaza in downtown San Francisco. It sits comfortably between a playground and The South of Market Health Clinic, two locations with artistic exterior elements. Schnell's paintings are rich with color and symbolism, and her artwork for the plaza, Evolves the Luminous Flora, follows suit. I talked to both Jovi Schnell and the SFAC about this new project, which is already contributing to positive, creative change in the neighborhood.
Schnell was selected from a pool of ten artists to propose a design to be imprinted into the pavement of Russ Street, which is partially blocked from traffic to allow for seating and future community festivals. According to Kate Patterson at the SFAC, "the panelists felt that Jovi's work incorporated a nice combination of cultural, graphic, and natural imagery, and that her design would appeal to multiple generations, especially kids."
Templates used to imprint the design. Photo: Meighan O'Toole
Schnell's multicolored design is the perfect neighbor for a playground, but her palette was a new endeavor for Ryan Jones, Barry Masson, and Dusty Cordes, the contractors who installed the art using technology called StreetPrint™. They painted it by hand with help from Schnell, but the design required six colors -- far more than the StreetPrint™ folks typically work with. The templates used to imprint the drawing were also unusual for the company and required some fancy footwork. Schnell said that, "initially the detail of the concept seemed infeasible, as the company had never done anything like it before." The templates were made from flexible wire rope, and while StreetPrint™ usually creates basic circle or square shapes for pavement, Schnell needed more complex forms to stay true to her detailed style. She was able to "create something that had enough symmetry in it so that the custom templates could be flipped, mirrored, and rotated" to allow for the intricacies in her piece, while staying within her budget. The imagery was partly inspired by input from community meetings about the project, and Schnell's historical research of the area. The final design includes symbolism related to the cosmos, nature, growth, and industry. A key to the symbols can be found on the SFAC's Web site.
In the current economic climate, it was easy for Schnell to draw parallels between her project and the Works Progress Administration's government-funded art projects of the 1930s. She was awarded the commission at the peak of unemployment and cutbacks. "Both my husband and I and many of our friends had already experienced the impact of these cutbacks in our own lines of work. Because it was my first public art project funded by the government and was being offered to me in lean financial times, it felt like receiving a relief measure."
Jovi Schnell may be one of the last local artists to receive such a commission if redevelopment agencies in California lose the fight with Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal to eliminate their funding. Schnell recognized that, "such government-funded projects," like hers, "tend to come under close scrutiny of the public for their spending measures with regards to their necessity and funding allocation." And on a recent episode of KQED's Forum, Congresswoman Jackie Speier said she supported the cuts and that, "frankly, there has been a lot of abuse of the redevelopment system in this state," further evidence that it won't be an easy battle for the agencies to continue their work. But take one look at Evolves the Luminous Flora, newly surrounded by greenery and benches for an eclectic community, and you'll see nothing but a positive impact. I stopped by Tutubi Plaza when the project was in progress and can attest to local residents' excitement about Tutubi Plaza and Schnell's new public work.
The ribbon cutting ceremony for Evolves the Luminous Flora will take place at Tutubi Plaza on Russ Street at Minna Street on February 11, 2011 at 11am.