If the mission of art is to create a dialog, then the mural project at Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort has already fulfilled its purpose.
After taking into consideration more than 80 comments from residents about the proposed mural for the exterior of the resort, the Calistoga Planning Commission on Wednesday approved the project 4-1.
Commissioners agreed that the mural is not publicly offensive and does not violate the municipal code.
The mural will be located on Fair Way, visible from the Cal Mart parking lot. An 8-foot banner representative of the mural was posted on the construction fencing outside the resort's renovation project on Dec. 21. Public comment ran roughly 60-40 percent against the project. Comments ranged from "loving it" to calling it "hideous."
The issue also called in to question whether or not it was up to the city, or by public poll, to decide what art is and is not.
Newly appointed Commissioner Jack Berquist pointed out that the applicants spent a considerable amount of time on project, used a local artist, listened to what was asked of them, and were cooperative of the process.
“Although it’s public art, it’s on private property, financed privately and as such should not be something that should require a referendum by the town to approve,” he said.
The project was initially brought before the Planning Commission on Nov. 18. While generally in favor of a mural at the location, commissioners could not agree on the design aspects. They requested a revision of the artwork with the incorporation of more local elements, such as grapevines or vineyards.
The applicants brought a revised mural back to the commission on Dec. 9, with the addition of grape leaves and Calistoga’s rare and native Popcorn Flower. The owners of the resort also agreed to commissioners’ request to post the banner for public scrutiny.
On Wednesday, Planning Commissioner and newly appointed Chair Scott Cooper cast the sole dissenting vote. He said the mural is “a beautiful piece of work” and he appreciated the attention to detail, but was listening to the residents who responded negatively to the project, many of whom said it looked “too tropical.”
The mural is the work of Angwin artist Will Callnan, who noted the irony of adding Calistoga’s rare and native Popcorn Flower — which resembles a Hawaiian plumeria — to the mural, causing it to look even more tropical.
According to the owners of the resort, Chartres Lodging Group, the concept is intended to inspire hope, peacefulness, and a celebration of Calistoga. The woman in the image represents "rebirth" from the waters of life, reflective of the spa’s branding.
Robert Kline, a partner from the resort’s development team, said of the public comments, “Being in the hotel business, I know that people who have negative opinions are typically the ones who comment. There certainly is a lot of (public) engagement, and to me that’s the purpose of art. Ultimately it’s a gift to the community and meant to create some sort of discourse.”
Commissioner Alissa McNair said the mural brings interest and variety to the community. “It’s done a good job of engaging the public,” she said.
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You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at 942-4035 or email@example.com.