While it will be two years before renovations at the Mission branch of the San Francisco Public Library are completed, the community has expressed their excitement for the installation of a newly commissioned piece of art, a fused-glass mural, that will showcase the talents of Juana Alicia Araiza.
The mural, entitled Nopal de la Misión, foregrounds the imagery of a prickly pear cactus, a symbol of resilience and resistance that Araiza associates with the rich cultural heritage of Mexico as well as with the experiences of marginalized communities all over the world.
“It is a symbol of resistance under difficult conditions, a tree that blooms in the desert, serves as delicious and nutritious sustenance and regenerates easily,” she stated in her proposal.
While many have described the mural as being made out of stained-glass, it actually will be constructed using a fused and slumped glass process. Araiza is collaborating with Lenehan Architectural Glass in Oakland since working with glass is a new medium for her.
As a result, Araiza’s mural will have a more sculptural, three-dimensional quality than she originally anticipated. “They showed me the options of being able to sprinkle ground glass on the surface of my painting to create texture—different grades of ground glass from fine to chunky,” she said.
Araiza conveyed eagerness about the translucency and refractiveness of the glass, which will consist of five panels lit from behind with LED lights. Araiza described the mural as a “glowing window at the center of the library’s world of words,” in her proposal.
Kate Patterson, a spokesperson for the library, emphasized that even though the mural will look like a window, it will not be visible from the exterior of the building.
Still, the eight-by-nine-foot mural will feature prominently in the library’s main reading room. It will be placed in direct line-of-sight at the top of a monumental staircase that is being restored as part of the library’s renovations.
“We heard from the community that they really wanted to see the original staircase location brought back,” Patterson said. “And this is going to be a beautiful focal point with the art at the top of the staircase.”
The San Francisco Arts Commission approved Araiza’s proposal in September although work on the mural will not begin until renovations are underway. Rachelle Axel, a spokesperson for the Arts Commission, said that Araiza will collaborate with architects and engineers from the Department of Public Works to ensure the specs and installation elements are aligned.
Araiza also acknowledged that fabrication probably will not start for another year. “I can’t begin the glass pieces until the actual frames that hold them are built as part of the construction process,” she said.
“We need exact measurements. You can’t just stretch the canvas a little further,” she laughingly added.
The projected budget for the library renovation is $24.7 million. Funding for the mural comes from the city’s Arts Enrichment Ordinance. It stipulates that 2% of the estimated cost of a civic construction must be set aside for public artwork.
The Arts Commission manages these funds and has allocated $71,500 for the artist fee, design, fabrication, and transportation of the mural commission, as reported in Mission Local.
Spokespersons for the Arts Commission and library confirmed that funding for the mural will remain the same although renovation costs have increased by $5 million since the original budget proposal.
In addition to Araiza’s commission, three existing public artworks by Emmanuel Montoya will be reframed and displayed in the new community room on the ground floor of the library. Araiza watched these pieces being created in the 1990s and is delighted to have her work featured with Montoya’s.
“I’m going to be in good company in the library,” Araiza said.
Though not part of her original proposal, Araiza hopes to incorporate an audio component to the mural to make her work more accessible, particularly for low vision and blind people. How would it work? When visitors click on the cactus leaves, they will hear the readings of traditionally underrepresented authors, with a specific focus on Latinx and indigenous writers from the Americas..
The symbolic space of the library is of particular importance for Araiza who hopes her art will help represent the narratives of those forgotten.
“It was the vision of the library and the community to bring forward our stories that have been buried behind stacks of Western Europe […] To make those stories visible is so special.”