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Community Teams Up for Cotati Arts Project

Local artist donates sculpture of Athena at gateway to downtown Cotati — meant to brace public, private space.

As of Friday morning, hundreds of people who pass through the Old Redwood Highway and East Cotati intersection every day will be greeted by an unexpected sight: a seven foot concrete sculpture of the goddess Athena’s face.

The sculpture, modeled after the Greek God of wisdom, handicrafts and warfare, is the first of four public sculptures to be installed throughout downtown Cotati by summer and will remain in place for a year — creating a sculpture walk and an art mecca.

That's the point — to draw art and character to Cotati, just like the ornately painted pianos did last year, says Cotati Chamber of Commerce president Andre Morrow, who leads the Cotati Arts Project.

Morrow started the project a year and a half ago with the belief that, art can enhance community in more ways than just aesthetics.

"It’s how people feel about the place that they live, the place that they shop,” Morrow says.

Last summer was the group's Piano Project, where kids painted six pianos that were then placed around town as playable sculptures. The project, geared towards drumming up a sense of identity, was a success. So, the group started working on the sculpture project only to run into a crucial question: how do you get sculptures in a city when you don’t have any money?

“The answer was not to buy,” Morrow said. “But to have artists loan [their pieces], with the permanent bases funded by groups.”

The arts project found its first artist through Artrails, where Santa Rosa sculptor Peter Crompton opens his sculpture garden to the public each year. Unbeknownst to Crompton, Morrow had been using Crompton’s sculptures as an example of the kind of pieces he wanted for the project. Crompton applied for the spot, and was chosen as the first sculptor.

“Athena’s the goddess of craft, so I think sculpture is a natural fit for her,” Crompton said of his piece. “She’s [also] a city goddess. You’ll often find libraries or schools, especially in European cities, dedicated to Athena.”

Crompton designed the sculpture to be interactive. “I made the inside of the mask so that you could walk inside it and look through the eyes,” Crompton said. “The inside of the surface is finished very differently from the outside, so it’s kind of the contrast between the private and the public.”

The next four sculptures will come from collaboration with the Sonoma State sculpture department. A group of eleven advanced sculpture students are taking a class specifically designed around the sculpture project, and will work all semester to develop their sculpture proposals.

The submissions will be voted on by a panel of Cotati Arts members and arts faculty, with the winning four to be installed June 1.

“I’m very excited about the project,” said sculpture professor Jann Nunn. “I was delighted when Andre got in touch with me because I’m always looking for opportunities for my students to take part in exhibiting their artwork. This is something that has long-term value for the students in their educational process.”

Nunn said that the student response has been “overwhelmingly positive, since this is such a great opportunity for them to get actual, real life experience in the public art field."

"Typically," Nunn said, "students at the undergraduate level don’t get this kind of opportunity to actual realize a public art project.”

All eleven works will be displayed on the Sonoma State campus two weeks before commencement.

The sculpture walk, like the Piano Project, is funded entirely through private donations. The Cotati Historical Society funded the first permanent base, dedicating it to Historical Society founders Lloyd and Prue Draper. The Active 20/30 Club of the North Bay is funding the second sculpture base in honor of Galilea Pena, an eight-year-old Rohnert Park girl who died in Mexico last year.

“It really is a community collaboration,” Morrow said of the support he’s received. “Everyone kicks in to do different things. In the beginning it’s very fluid-which sculpture, which location and in the end it’s going to come together to be something pretty incredible.” 

Editor's note: the sculpture is located at the corner of East Cotati Avenue and Old Redwood Highway.

Karen Pierce Gonzalez April 09, 2011 at 04:17 PM
Wow! This is really great. Art in public spaces has been prized the world over... reminds me of sculptures placed in the center of large, civic water fountains in Europe, etc. Way to go, Cotati!

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