“It’s an epic change for First Street and the downtown area,” said Kristine Cummins, marketing and webmaster for .
A Napa native who actually shopped at the Carithers department store before it became Napa County offices, Cummins was referring to the "Art on First" installation project Arts Council is currently shepherding in downtown Napa.
Walking up First Street from Main Street’s budding "entertainment district towards the newly hip “West End,” anchored by the , Oenotri and ’s gallery, you must first pass through Napa’s “Dead End.”
It's easy to see how this stretch of First Street got its name: It's dominated by almost two blocks of the on the north side of the street and the featureless county building on the south side.
, , and the new pottery studio do their best to inject color and fun into this dead zone, but the blocks of dingy, empty storefronts are a glaring reminder of Napa’s challenged downtown retail environment.
But during the last week, one couldn’t help but notice the changes taking place in what used to be the dark storefronts of the long-empty Merrill and Gordon Buildings.
Newly-built and freshly-painted panels have been put in place, providing a blank canvas for 20 Bay Area artists to create one-of-a-kind, three-dimensional installations unique to the individual spaces.
The idea came from Sarah Brooks, general manager at the complex, and local artist and city planning commissioner Huether, as a way to help revitalize the street.
With private funding from PBID (Property Based Improvement District) and the City of Napa Tourism Improvement District, the program will run for eight months.
The project was handed off to the Arts Council as "we are equipped to do this by our history of managing artists’ projects,” Cummins said.
The show is curated by Bay Area arts advisor Chandra Ceritto, who chose nine Napa artists and 11 from other Bay Area communities to create installations for the storefronts.
The Arts Council is responsible for assigning and building the spaces. This has put many hats on Cummins' head, including a painter’s cap, as she is responsible for overseeing the final preparations of the storefronts as well as acting as artist liaison.
“You should have seen some of the proposals," Cummins said with a smile. "I am excited to see what the projects will look like.“
Detailed information about the artist and their projects will be available on the Arts Council Napa Valley web site soon, Cummins said.
As the storefront preparations finished last week, the artists began to put their projects into place. Once completed, the storefronts are covered with paper that wil be removed at the opening reception, Feb. 25 at 6 p.m.