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Supporters of the Napa Valley Vine Trail have launched an effort to organize the addition of public artwork along the county-spanning pathway’s Napa section – as plans for the first two installations are taking shape.

The City Council has approved $40,000 for an art piece to decorate a fence surrounding the city’s corporation yard near Lincoln Avenue. Meanwhile, officials announced the approval of a 152-foot-wide mural that will adorn the back of a commercial building at Soscol Avenue and Vallejo Street – the south end of a 1.7-mile Rail Arts District aimed at attracting more cyclists and pedestrians to an urban, sometimes graffiti-pocked corridor lacking the natural scenery of rural sections Upvalley.

Quickly launching large, visible projects in Napa will encourage other urban property owners to install art pieces and other improvements to draw more visitors, reduce blight and soften “the least-loved part of the route,” said Chuck McMinn, founder of the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition, which is developing the arts district along with the Napa Valley Wine Train, whose tracks parallel the trail.

“We’ve decided to join forces, take the bull by the horns and solve it,” McMinn told councilmembers in December, while unveiling the district, which would encompass lands along the Vine Trail from Soscol/Vallejo streets north to Redwood Road near Highway 29.

The coalition and the Wine Train are pledging $50,000 each to organize the district, whose governing board will include members of both organizations as well as Arts Council Napa Valley and local artists. The district is intended to recruit property owners to install art pieces or provide land for them, and to become the focus of fundraising and community volunteering.

Although the Rail Arts District will not directly involve city staff, Napa leaders were quick to praise its mission of turning eyesores into attractions.

“This will be like the High Line, only not elevated,” said Councilwoman Juliana Inman, referring to the abandoned New York City railroad that has been turned into a popular, greenery-lined urban trail through Lower Manhattan over the last decade. “Instead of inviting graffiti, we’ll be inviting art.”

The Rail Arts District’s debut installation will be a mural of a napping man by EtamCru, an art collective based in Poland. City staff accepted the mural proposal last month after a three-week review, City Manager Mike Parness announced.

Tentatively titled “A man taking in a nap in nature/taking a break to smell the roses,” the painting will range from to 21 to 30 feet tall and occupy a wall of the building that houses the Napa Valley Register and a NAPA Auto Parts store – within easy view of passers-by on foot, bicycle and the Wine Train. (Balco Properties of Oakland owns the building, where the Register moved its headquarters in July after half a century on Second Street downtown.)

Plans filed with the city call for the cement-block wall to receive exterior-grade latex and oil paints, with a protective coating against graffiti and ultraviolet light to be added about once every five years. The Wine Train and Vine Trail coalition would be responsible for maintaining the mural, as well as removing vandalism within 48 hours of its discovery and removing the painting at the end of its estimated 15-year useful life.

McMinn offered the mural as a model and example to the more than 100 private landowners in the Rail Arts District, who would be encouraged to install artworks of their choosing or provide land easements to artists.

Installations could take the form not only of painting and sculpture but also miniature parks, landscaping or plant-lined “living walls.” McMinn also proposed decorative gateways at eight locations where the Vine Trail and the Wine Train intersect public streets.

A short walk away, a city-sponsored project to install public art along 710 feet of chain-link fence beside the Vine Trail will receive $40,000 from Napa’s $390,000 public art fund following the council’s unanimous approval. That project will be integrated into, or attached to, an existing barrier with a green plastic cover that shields the city corporation yard between Lincoln Avenue and Jackson Street.

In November, Napa solicited plans from artists to decorate the fence, either by weaving colored and patterned materials into it or using it as a mount for an artwork. A city committee may choose an artist this month for an installation that would be completed by July.

City officials, though supportive of the Rail Arts District, are not seeking seats on its board – a decision Councilman Scott Sedgley said is meant to avoid burdening property owners with extra land-use conditions.

Still, the appeal of creating a prettier face to visitors remained strong.

“I have so many people who visit me from back East, where I just want to put blinders on them until we get out of there and into the beautiful valley,” said Councilwoman Doris Gentry to McMinn, of the Vine Trail Coalition, about the urban pathway’s current landscape. “I just want to eat you up, I’m so excited that you want to clean up that corridor.”

Twelve and a half miles of the Vine Trail have been completed from Napa north to Yountville, and the complete pathway is expected to span 47 miles, from Calistoga in the north to Vallejo in the south.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.