Local artist Ned Kahn is building a temporary sculpture garden in the weedy, empty lot just east of Sebastopol’s downtown plaza. The future home of Hotel Sebastopol, the lot has been an eyesore in downtown for years now, although the extensive chain link fencing around the property has proved to be an inviting canvas for both a local homeless artist and political activists, including the local Black Lives Matter movement.
Hotel Sebastopol was supposed to break ground this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic put the project on hold. At the same meeting where the city granted Piazza Hospitality, the hotel’s developer, an extension on its permits, councilmember Sarah Gurney asked owner Paolo Petrone if there was anything the company could do to improve the site’s appearance. He balked at her request at the time, but her suggestion planted a seed.
“After delaying groundbreaking of our project, we began brainstorming interim use ideas to help activate the prominent downtown parcel before construction commences,” said Piazza’s co-founder Circe Sher. “Our goal was to help bridge the gap between downtown and the Barlow with some sort of attraction to help draw people between the two districts … We hope to incorporate the site into upcoming downtown events, helping to promote downtown Sebastopol as a place to visit.”
Sher said the large, outdoor nature of the space makes it ideal for the present moment because it’s well-suited to social distancing.
They reached out to Kahn for his ideas about what to do with the site.
“Given we’ve worked with Ned Kahn on past projects and he was already creating an art piece for the future hotel, he was the first person we reached out to,” she said. “The Air Garden concept was his subsequent vision for the site.”
“The entire site will feature Ned’s pieces, installed in phases,” Sher said.
Kahn’s artwork typically integrates art and technology, using natural elements, such as water, fire, wind and sand. Wind is a key element for many of his projects – think of the mesmerizing wind-blown sculpture that covers an entire side of one of Santa Rosa’s tallest buildings.
The day that the first two sculptures were installed turned out to be very windy indeed, and the light, aluminum flaps on the sculptures were dancing for all they were worth.
Kahn had been chosen by the public art committee to create a large art piece called “Portal” to be installed on the Highway 12 bridge just east of Sebastopol, but Caltrans nixed the project. Instead for the next year or so, Sebastopudlians can enjoy Kahn’s wind-blown sculptures in the lot across from the plaza.
Sher said the artwork is expected to be up through 2021, when the company expects to begin construction on the hotel. “We hope to break ground in late 2021 or 2022,” she said, noting that it will take one-and-a-half to two years to complete construction of the hotel.