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Cotati Arts Project Enlists Sonoma State Students to Fill Downtown With Large-Scale Public Art

A movement to transform Cotati’s streets, sidewalks and parks into a platform to showcase art and beautify public spaces is gaining traction — the Cotati Arts Project this summer plans to install four more large-scale sculptures downtown.


A sculpture of Athena, modeled after the Greek God of wisdom that stands seven feet high, was installed at the intersection of East Cotati Avenue and Old Redwood Highway April 8 by the Cotati Arts Project and the Cotati Historical Society.


“Art brings soul to a neighborhood; it injects the place you live with energy and instills a sense of pride,” said Andre Morrow, chair of the project and president of the Cotati Chamber of Commerce. “We want the project to grow exponentially; we want to have so much art in Cotati that the community becomes known for it.”


To this end, Morrow has partnered with Sonoma State University’s art department to create a sculpture class called the “Cotati Arts Project.”


“Andre approached me, and I thought it would be a wonderful addition to our curriculum,” said Jann Nunn, a sculpture professor who teaches the class of 11.


“My students create a large-scale outdoor work that’s displayed around campus every year, and what’s so wonderful about it is, it’s not hypothetical — students actually competed with each other for a chance to display their work in public,” Nunn said.


Missy Engelhardt, 23, is one of four artists chosen from Sonoma State, who will produce a piece to be installed downtown Cotati over the next three months. She is designing a series of five sculptures that she said look like pillows, but they’re made from solid cement. She said they’re meant to play with the idea of negative space.


“My dream growing up was always to be an artist,” Engelhardt said. “It’s a great accomplishment for me to be chosen; it’s pushed me to work harder and help get more people interested in art in public spaces.”


Diana Meehan is another artist who was chosen. She’ll be installing five bronze discs modeled after manhole covers along a Cotati sidewalk near La Plaza Park.


“Looking at manholes, the first thing that struck me was the incredible patterns, and I wanted to mimic that by playing with unusual and unique patterns from a street map,” said Meehan, who is graduating this month with degrees in art and urban planning from Sonoma State.


The biggest challenge for the artists is funding, Nunn said.


The Athena sculpture was funded by the Cotati Historical Society, and he next sculpture to be installed, by artist Halley Siepman, was paid for by a $1,500 grant by the North Bay Active 20-30 Club. Monies donated pay for installation and materials, the artists don’t get paid for their work.


Wyatt Amend, 22, said funding is a major hurdle for him.


“My piece is a huge funnel-web spider cocoon made from fiberglass and steel,” Amend said. “My inspiration comes from the architecture that goes into how spiders build their webs — the contradiction between gnarly sharp lines and graceful curves.”


“It’s not going to happen if I can’t get funding for the materials,” Amend said. “But if we can make it work, it’s going to help my exposure as an artist exponentially. It’s a great opportunity as an artist to have such a large piece of work in your portfolio so early in your career.”


“We’re working really hard with local nonprofits on fundraising to make this project a reality,” Morrow said. “Our pie-in-the-sky goal is to actually discover an up and coming artist and give them a jumpstart on their career.”


Nunn said though it’s not unprecedented for a city to work with university undergraduate students on a project of this capacity — both in exposure and size — is very rare.


“I think it’s a fantastic opportunity because not many communities are open to having undergraduate students participate in projects of this scale,” Nunn said.


Printed in Rohnert Park Patch.

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