Council approves concept, future home for ‘Sebastopol Spire’

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, April 26, 2021

ned kahn sebastopol spire

A rendering of what Sebastopol Spire will look like from Sebastopol Avenue at the eastern entrance to the town.

Local artist Ned Kahn has a clearer path forward for his art piece “Sebastopol Spire,” which is being commissioned by the city of Sebastopol. After going back to the drawing board to find a different site for the piece following a February council meeting, the Sebastopol City Council unanimously approved both the concept and future site location of “Sebastopol Spire” during its meeting on April 20.

The new location for the spire will be on city-owned property northwest of the Highway 12 bridge, where the new trail connection from the community center and AmeriCorp Trail will connect through Sebastopol Avenue. The sculpture will be set back far enough from the road where noise pollution from cars on Highway 12 will be limited, but close enough to where passing cars will still be able to see it.

The new location won’t require the city to coordinate with CalTrans, but will need a conservation easement with Sonoma County Ag + Open Space, which can be included in the final easement documents that are currently being finalized for the space.

Sebastopol Planning Director Kari Svanstrom said that members of the city’s Public Arts Committee (PAC) met with Kahn at the proposed site a few weeks ago.

“It’s a much quieter site than if it were directly against the highway, so there is an opportunity to put some benches around, really engage with the site … the sculpture itself is tall enough at 35 feet that you could still see it as you’re entering town,” Svanstrom said.

At its last meeting, the PAC voted unanimously to recommend that the location and plan for the project move forward.

Finding this location for the art piece was “worth the five-year wait,” said PAC Vice Chair Marghe Mills-Thysen during the meeting. The PAC first heard proposals for public art projects in late 2016, with Kahn’s being chosen in 2017.

“I really hope, and the PAC really felt, let’s move forward. Five years is a good amount of time to ripen — let’s plant it, let’s enjoy it and let Ned go forward with it,” Mills-Thysen said.

Kahn was absent from the council discussion about his art piece, because he was experiencing side effects from receiving a vaccine, Svanstrom said.

However, the council agenda packet included a statement from Kahn about the project.

“I am very excited about the new proposed site for the ‘Sebastopol Spire.’ Of all the sites we have considered over the last few years, this site is by far the best. Located in the meadow adjacent to the northwest corner of the bridge, this site is very visible from Highway 12 but feels like a place that will encourage people to visit,” he said, adding that he proposes the installation of benches where people can sit and observe “Sebastopol Spire” as it interacts with the wind.

According to Kahn, as drivers on Highway 12 head west toward town, the spire will slowly appear in their view, with the structure coming into view bit-by-bit.

“This sequential reveal will add to the drama of seeing the artwork,” Kahn wrote in his statement to the city. “Frederick Law Olstead, the designer of Central Park in New York and Golden Gate Park in SF often wrote about the importance of successive views and the sequential experience of landscape. His advice was to not show all your cards at once, create a sense of mystery. I believe the proposed site gives us the opportunity to create a sequential reveal that will allow the artwork to function as a gateway into the town but also create a wonderful place where people can relax and connect with nature.”

Svanstrom said that the sequential reveal of the project will likely pull people to the site of the art piece.

“I think it’s very significant that the sculptor is very happy with the spot. I just think that has a lot of significance in terms of his perspective for presenting the artwork,” Mills-Thysen said.

When it comes to flood risk, Svanstrom said that the structure will be anchored down into the ground, which will help with any weather-related issues.

Council members spoke highly of the sculpture, expressing gratitude to both Kahn, the PAC and everyone else involved in the project for seeing it to hopeful realization.

“I’m thinking the sculpture is going to attract people to that little meadow. Where are they going to park? How are they going to walk out there? I think people are going to want to see it and stand under it,” asked Vice Mayor Sarah Glade Gurney.

Svanstrom said that there’s parking across the street at Tomodachi Park and that people could cross the street down at the Morris Street crossing and during the summer months, people who park at Tomodachi Park can walk down under the Highway 12 bridge to get there. Additionally, the AmeriCorp trail will connect the open space near the sculpture to the community center parking lot.

The project is being funded with the city’s “percent for art” fee, which pulls money from major projects that either provide on-site public art or pay an in-lieu fee that the city uses for public art projects. The funds aren’t discretionary and must be used for public art.

“Art is a really good investment in our town. We love art, art is wonderful, it adds so much to our community and who we are, but it’s also an attractant. That’s what makes us welcoming to visitors — visitors come here and want to look at our wonderful art and stop at a restaurant and walk around town and go shopping,” Mayor Una Glass said.

Kahn was awarded the contract for “Sebastopol Spire, the first city-funded public art projected, in February 2017. Mills-Thysen said that the location for the sculpture has come full circle with the sculpture being able to be near the Highway 12 bridge, a longtime goal related to Kahn’s original art proposal.

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com