For many, “I don’t know about art but I know what I like,” is the go-to line when it comes to matters of aesthetic appreciation. That said, public art – meaning artwork permanently placed in public spaces for mass consumption – often gets a raised eyebrow, shrugged shoulders, or at worse, an incredulous “Who the BLEEP paid for that?”

At best, however, the work inspires and delights. This is surely the hope of the Public Art Committee, which invites interested parties to the Water Street Public Art Proposal Open House at 6 p.m., Thursday, April 14 at Ice House Gallery, 405 East D Street, Petaluma.

Though the Petaluma River may not be a real river (it’s a tidal estuary a merciful congress declared river so that we may receive federal dredging monies), the $150,000 art budget is very real. The fee, which covers the art’s fabrication and installation, will go to one of two parties who’s proposals are up for discussion.

The contenders are Ned Kahn and the Flux Foundation (and, yes, together they sound like an ’80s New Wave band), who will both present their concepts at Thursday’s meeting. The artists were winnowed from a pool of 100 applicants.

“During our public monthly meetings, the committee narrowed the group to approximately 20 artists. With the assistance of a public stakeholder committee we narrowed the pool to five,” says Annee Knight, vice chair of the Public Art Committee, which is comprised of of the seven appointed citizen administers.

Of the four site-specific proposals received, the committee felt that two outshone the others.

Kahn’s proposal seeks to adorn the edge of the riverfront from the Balshaw foot bridge to Washington Street with a shimmering kinetic curtain. Flux Foundation, a large-scale public art collective, proposes a series of huge, LED-illuminated seed pod-like forms.

The Petaluma Public Art Fund, which comes from 1% of non-residential private and public construction projects with a cost above $500,000 or more. The money for this project came from the Public Art Fund which must be spent on public art on public property in accordance with the City’s Ordinance and approved Master Plan.

For Knight, the criteria is simple.

“This is a river walk project and needs to speak to the uniqueness of our community and our natural environment. The piece should be equally inviting and engaging,” says Knight, who is an independent museum collections and exhibit manager, and is faculty at John F. Kennedy University and Sonoma State University.

Moreover, the art should help unite and define a community, says Knight.

“Public art enlivens city landscapes and creates new experiences. It is interesting to see the diverse ways artists interpret their project,” says Knight, who encourages community members to attend Thursday’s meeting. “For me, the conversation is a vital part of the process. Our Water Street project is our first major project for our city, many more of varying sizes will to come. It is very exciting.”

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