Napa ARTwalk

Napa ARTwalk sculpture "Getting Your Bearings" by David Boyer, installed on the Napa Riverbend Plaza.

Israel Valencia

Downtown’s ARTwalk has always beckoned the public to stop and take in the free public art displays scattered around the city center. Now, the actual voice of the artist has been added to the art tour.

As part of the current two-year exhibition, the city of Napa and Arts Council Napa Valley (ACNV) are now using a smartphone app called Otocast that offers an audio tour to help viewers better understand the various ARTwalk installations.

“Thanks for stopping by my art piece,” said artist David Boyer during his audio presentation about his work “Getting Your Bearings,” located on Riverbend Plaza behind Napa Mill.

“The sculpture you are viewing here was inspired in part by old antique mining and industrial artifacts,” he said. “I’m especially pleased” with it.

The artist, James Burnes, described how he came to name his metal sculpture of a bull named “Guermo en Inverno,” located on Dwight Murray Plaza on First Street.

“Guermo is modeled after a stud bull on a ranch in New Mexico,” said Burnes. “He was a very proud little bull so I thought I’d pay him homage.”

Eleven of the 14 Napa ARTwalk artists recorded their own statements about their work, making the tour that much more personal. The other three descriptions were read by an actor.

Hearing the voice of the artist makes it seem like the artist is standing next to you as you look at the piece. On the app, each artwork is also displayed on an interactive map with pushpins designating locations. The smartphone app is free to download on iTunes or Google Play and it’s available for both Apple and Android devices.

“It is very exciting to see this next evolution of the Napa ARTwalk,” said Olivia Everett, Arts Council Napa Valley CEO. “ACNV is very proud to be a part of this growing program and the conversations it starts.”

The ARTwalk previously offered a smartphone audio component using scannable Quick Response (QR) codes for self-guided tours. But QR code technology is somewhat outdated now, said ARTwalk curator Kristina Young. After she heard about Otocast, she wanted to give it a try.

“It’s a lot more intuitive” than the previous audio tour, Young said. Once you download Otocast, “you just follow along.” She hopes the new audio tour will help people engage even more with the work and the artist. Hearing from the artists in their own voices “seemed like a good way to go,” she said.

“It’s like being on an enhanced tour,” said Robin Klingbeil, a city of Napa representative. She likes how other points of interest or even downtown merchants could be added to the map of the tour.

“We’re hoping to add historical buildings or other pieces of public art, so it’s more of a rich experience for anybody in downtown,” said Young. “It’s about helping people discover art.”

Advertising or sponsorships could also be incorporated, she said. That would help bring down the cost of using Otocast, which is about $1,400 for the first year.

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“The artist narratives really enhance the experience and let people connect with the art in new ways,” said Eric Feinstein, the creator of Otocast. “It’s also great to see the platform offering people outside of Napa the ability to experience ARTwalk no matter where they are in the world.”

The Otocast app has already been used by similar arts programs across the country, including cities such as Walnut Creek and Encinitas in California and cities in Ohio, Texas, New York and Illinois.

Since its debut in mid-June, the app has been used 163 times to listen to the Napa ARTwalk guide, said Feinstein.

“We’ve seen people really fall in love with certain pieces,” Young said. “Every time we change it out, we get feedback from people who are going to miss the pieces that are going away.”

“You’re never going to make everyone happy with one piece. But the more diversity you have, the more there will be something for everybody,” she said.

ARTwalk artists are each paid a stipend of $1,500 for the loan of their works and all are for sale. In the past, about five such art works have sold, with 10 percent of that sale price going to the city, said Young.

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Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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