The mother of a young man slain five years ago has sponsored the conversion of guns into artworks celebrating peace – but the source material for such artworks may be a stumbling block for Yountville leaders.
A concept for a public artwork in Yountville assembled from seized, surrendered or melted-down firearms largely fell flat with the Town Council last week, as some members declared that the use of objects that once could have killed or wounded people threatens to swallow up any pacifist purpose to which they could be steered.
Councilmembers were responding to a proposal from the Robby Poblete Foundation, named for the 23-year-old man who was fatally shot in 2014 during an attempted robbery in Vallejo. The foundation, created by Poblete’s mother, Pati Navalta Poblete, works with California law enforcement agencies to organize buybacks of firearms to prevent their use in crimes, then has the guns melted or stripped into parts for artists to recast into outdoor sculptures or installations.
However worthy the group’s cause, Mayor John Dunbar declared the use of gun parts – even as art – too close a pass to the violence such artworks seek to decry.
“Getting illegal guns off the street, great idea, no problem with that. But I have a problem with using weapons to be represented as an art piece,” said Dunbar, a board member of The Pathway Home, the Yountville treatment center for combat veterans where a former client shot and killed the director and two clinicians in March 2018. “I feel like it’s almost celebrating the weapons, the violence; I’d rather see art like we already have.”
“We need to defer to the victims of gun violence and be most sensitive that if any of them is offended by this idea, we don’t do it. And I can tell you as one of those people, it offends me and I don’t want to do it.”
In recent months, the Poblete foundation had approached Yountville about sponsoring an art installation through the nonprofit’s Art of Peace program. Materials for the display would be drawn from a gun buy-back Pati Navalta Poblete, who did not speak at the council meeting, has said she is pursuing with local law enforcement agencies later this year.
Weighing the idea in May, the town Arts Commission pondered possibilities including placing the work in a visible location such as near Town Hall, or organizing an art exhibition or gun-lock giveaway in conjunction with its debut.
Arts commissioner Kimberly Cook told the council any such art piece would not be political in nature or carry an overt gun-control theme but would be “more a piece of art that would appeal to the town that would happen to be made from gun parts. It would be explained in a special kind of plaque that this is what it is, and this is why we think it’s important to have it in town.”
Some council members, however, were dubious about how thoroughly the weapon-related origins of some artworks have been concealed.
Seeing pictures of artworks created and exhibited in Vallejo and elsewhere in California through the Poblete foundation, “I can see the pieces of guns in most of these,” said Marita Dorenbecher. “A pad in front of Town Hall would absolutely not fly with me, to have a piece of art that looks like a gun.”
“The word I’m looking for is ‘fraught,’” added Councilmember Kerri Dorman. “I can see the transformative aspect of art, but something deep inside me says perhaps our time and funds can be spent on something that might not do damage to someone when they walk by it, (because) I can’t walk in their shoes.
“Given the discussion tonight, I could let this one go and would let this one go.”