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City of Napa considering plan to replace Fuller Park playground with public art play structure

Fuller Park in Old Town Napa

A play structure at Fuller Park in the city of Napa's Old Town neighborhood.

The city of Napa is working on a plan to replace the Fuller Park playground, which is nearing the end of its lifespan, with a public art project that would also serve as a play structure.

The city’s Public Art Steering Committee voted unanimously last week to recommend city staff move forward on the proposal. The project needs to run through several more steps — gathering community input, finding an artist, assessing plans — before eventually going to the Napa City Council for approval.

The proposal, which is likely a few years off from being realized, would create the first public art project focused on children and families in Napa, said Katrina Gregory, recreation manager for the city. Gregory said the piece will also serve as a kickoff for the city’s Arts in Parks program, which aims to spread permanent public art throughout the entire Napa community.

“[This project] kind of gets to the heart of arts and parks program,” Gregory said at the meeting. “We’re trying to get art out beyond just the center of the downtown area and focusing on a whole different audience.”

The Arts in Parks program started up as a concept about two years ago, after the Public Art Steering Committee moved under direction of the city’s Parks and Recreation department and away from the city’s economic development division, Gregory said. 

She added that the parks department has been looking into various opportunities for public art in city parks this year. Since July, the department has focused on researching companies and artists who’ve completed public art play structure projects in other communities.

Ali Koenig, parks and recreation management analyst for the city, identified the Fuller Park playground as a potential site for a public art project after realizing the play structure, though still safe, is nearing the end of its life and will need to be replaced in the next few years, Gregory said. 

So, staff recommended the commission support an option to remove most of the existing play equipment at the Fuller Park playground — instead of a traditional playground retrofit project — and install a public art play structure.

“[We thought] this might be a great location to really make a statement and really do something wonderful for the community with the public art fund,” Gregory said. “How exciting that public art isn’t just a beautiful sculpture downtown or a mural but could be something that has a lot of utility in a way, something that could be really interactive and for children and families in Napa.”

The department, Gregory said, is intending to find a public artist that’s well versed in play structures and the various requirements related to them.

Committee chair John Hannaford said at the meeting that it was important the project be considered as a public art project first — though one that inspires play and creative engagement for kids — and a replacement to a playground secondarily.  

“When I think about Art in Parks, I’m talking about ...  movement and sound and apparatus that kids can get on, and interactives that relate to the aesthetic experience,” Hannaford said.

Committee member Lissa Gibbs agreed with Hannaford that the project should be primarily thought of as public art because of semantic associations around the word “play structure.”

“A play structure’s something you get in a box from Costco,” Gibbs said at at the meeting. “We don’t want that.”

To illustrate the differences between a play structure and public art that would serve the purpose of play, Gibbs recalled visiting the Boston Children’s Museum in Boston as a child and playing with a gigantic pencil and an operational telephone the “size of a house.”

“They weren’t slides; they were something else that was tapping into other parts of your brain, and they were works of art from the late '60s,” Gibbs said. “They were formative experiences for me because they made me think about objects in a different way, and the world.”

Commissioner Evy Warshawski said it’s still important to consider the many kids that use the playground and to maintain that level of appeal to kids with the eventual public art project.

“Tons of kids use the structure now,” Warshawski said. “I think that’s an important component. It has to be inviting for kids because they’re used to going to that park, and they’re all over those structures.”

This section of the Bay Trail in Napa, known as Stanly Lane, has been completely repaved and repaired. It's a far cry from what it used to look like. Check it out.

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You can reach Edward Booth at (707) 256-2213.

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