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Art at North Beach library aims to resonate with community

by San Francisco Chronicle

To examine the public art that will soon go up at the North Beach library, all you have to do is close your eyes.

The to-be-built library will feature a soundtrack of noises from around the neighborhood, as designed by audio artist and North Beach resident Bill Fontana. His idea for a “sound sculpture” beat out two other finalists at the Arts Commission’s Visual Arts Committee meeting Wednesday.

Fontana proposed to build a series of small loudspeakers that would play “a changing mix of sounds that are taken from environmental, historical, cultural and social situations in the surroundings of North Beach and its adjacent communities.” A stream of bell chimes, birdsong and ocean waves can be heard on a sample clip.

The committee gave the project a green light, with the condition that he refine the proposal to be more specific about the types of sounds he plans to collect and the set-up of the sound system.

The final result “will reflect the unique sounds and character of a beloved and iconic neighborhood,” said Kate Patterson, a commission spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

In an e-mail, Fontana wrote, “I came up with the idea of the sound sculpture as a response to the architectural design of the building. It seemed … interesting to wrap the wedge shaped exterior of the building with a sound sculpture exploring the rich acoustic worlds of North Beach and its surroundings.

“I am excited by the win and the fact that this permanent sound sculpture will also be there for my children growing up in North Beach and they will have this kind of legacy in that community,” he added. The construction process on the library is proceeding in spite of a lawsuit, filed in July by the Coalition for a Better North Beach Library and Playground, along with Friends of Appleton-Wolfard Libraries. The groups allege the city did not do enough to save the 1959 building from demolition.

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