Sonoma County Museum plans downtown graffiti art project

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Graffiti isn't generally encouraged in downtown Santa Rosa, but the Sonoma County Museum has hired three local artists to decorate the outside walls of one of its buildings with their colorful paintings.

Three artists have been working this week on the former Conklin Brothers flooring company building, at Seventh and B streets, where the museum plans a future art gallery.

"The building is sitting empty and in need of renovation. I decided to turn the exterior walls into an art installation, and put out a call for artist proposals," said Diane Evans, executive director of the museum.

The museum chose painters Julia Davis, whose work is signed "Bud Snow" and has been exhibited extensively up and down the West Coast; Carlos de Villasante, an associate art professor at Sonoma State University; and Judy Kennedy, a member of the City of Santa Rosa Art in Public Places board.

Their new artwork is expected to remain in place on the building's exterior through the end of the year. The museum is using the word graffiti to promote the project, but the artists see themselves as muralists.

"I'm not a graffiti artist. I just consider myself an artist," de Villasante said Wednesday afternoon as he began work on a series of large pictures of human heads to be painted on the wall of the building that faces Seventh Street.

"These are the kinds of images that inspired me when I was growing up in Mexico City with the murals there," de Villasante said. "I've always had a fascination with painted walls."

Davis created fanciful characters she calls "composite creatures," with randomly mismatched heads, bodies and feet, for the west end of the building.

"I love the Sonoma County Museum, because they're providing opportunities for emerging artists and public art," Davis said. "I like the idea of artists communicating with a broad public."

Since 2001, the museum has owned the building at Seventh and B streets, just east of its longtime home in the former city post office at 425 Seventh St.

Earlier this year, the Sonoma County Museum board of directors decided to pull out of the long-delayed mixed-use and museum project planned at the former AT&T building downtown. Instead, the museum will expand its art and education programs into the former Conklin Brothers building, possibly as early as the end of next year.

In the meantime, the museum plans to put out a call for a second round of exterior graffiti art for the early part of next year.

Once renovated, the building will house exhibitions and selections from the museum's art collection, including original drawings, sculptures, collages and photographs by Christo and Jeanne Claude, creators of the "Running Fence" art installation in Sonoma County in 1976.

The architect for the former Conklin Brothers building project is Mark Jensen of Healdsburg. His firm, Jensen Architects of San Francisco, recently designed the Shed cafe, events center and marketplace in Healdsburg.

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