Celebrated artist Mildred Howard has been selected to create a sculpture that will be a centerpiece of the SFPUC’s new Southeast Community Center (SECC) in the Bayview neighborhood that is slated to open in 2021.
Howard was chosen by an Artist Review Panel comprised of SFPUC and community representatives, Bay Area arts professionals, and Commissioners from the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) and the Southeast Community Facility (SECF) to create a unique artwork that will connect residents to the future Southeast Community Center located at 1550 Evans Avenue in San Francisco.
The new center will include a large, state-of-the-art special events space and multi-purpose space for meetings, events, and recreation, such as dance classes, gatherings, and day care services. The center will also provide a wide range of social services supporting workforce development and education for Southeast residents of all ages.
Howard, an internationally acclaimed, award-winning artist, is best known for her sculptural installations that invoke collective histories and personal narratives. Her proposed artwork design for the SECC takes its inspiration from “traditional Ivory Coast currency to memorialize the unsung contributions of the African-American community in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood.” Worn as jewelry, currency in a variety of cultures around the world represents symbolic and economic wealth.
“West African metal sculpture in copper, bronze and iron stands at the intersection of art, jewelry and wealth: in addition to being used as a currency for exchange,” said Howard. “Such objects could be worn as a sign of success, embodying one’s power.”
Howard’s centerpiece sculpture dramatically enlarges these forms in bronze and orients them vertically, subtly suggesting the outline of a ship’s hull.
An homage to the travels, trials, and perseverance of Bayview residents of any race or ethnicity, Howard notes that the “universal, iconic shape simultaneously calls to mind the perpetual movement of immigrants and the hard- fought wealth — both economic and intangible — needed to build their communities, standing tall as a proud and dignified reminder that we all ultimately arrived in this country from somewhere else.”
Howard has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors over the course of her influential career, including the 2004/2005 Joan Mitchell Foundation Award, 2015 Lee Krasner Award, 2018 Douglas G. MacAgy Distinguished Achievement Award from the San Francisco Art Institute, Anonymous Was a Woman Fellowship, two Rockefeller Artists Fellowships, and National Endowment for the Arts Grant in Sculpture.
As part of the agency’s mission to be inclusive of environmental and community interests, the SFPUC has committed to working with the Arts Commission, local artists, and residents to create public art that recognizes and celebrates the people, values, and history of the Bayview community, and inspires appreciation and respect for the environmental resources entrusted to the agency’s care.
The aims of the plaza sculpture are to support the new SECC as a destination and be an icon and asset for the neighborhood; to activate the plaza in both day and nighttime hours; and to be of a large, landmark scale that welcomes and engages viewers from afar and up close.
In addition to the creation of the centerpiece sculpture, Howard will work with young adults from the Bayview-Hunter’s Point community to present art as a legitimate and serious career choice, with programming focused on a variety of disciplines and career options, represented, and modeled by the artists and writer(s), including Howard herself.
“It’s important to me that these young people realize the possibility of studying and making art as a viable means to make a living while also expanding their concept of art as an interdisciplinary framework comprising not only 2-d and 3-d visual media, but also performance, poetry and criticism,” said Howard. “As an artist with decades of experience, I hope to serve as a model and a mentor for young Bayview-Hunter’s Point residents who are curious about art but who might otherwise find it difficult to gain access to the art world.”
Howard was chosen through a public panel process from a pool of applicants to the project Request for Qualifications and Bayview Artist Registry. The SFPUC and SFAC partnered on the development of a Bayview Arts Master Plan based on extensive input from the community and stakeholders. One of the outcomes of the plan, is the creation of the Bayview Artist Registry, a Citywide resource for public art projects associated with construction in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood.
The Bayview Registry aligns with San Francisco’s 1969 Public Art Ordinance, which requires two percent of all eligible above ground city construction costs to support arts enrichment. The registry is open to artists living in the United States with a meaningful connection to the Bayview. Based on their media and experience, artists can be selected by a panel for art opportunities with budgets of up to $1 million.