Healdsburg Lights Up with Public Art Project

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A light hallway connects local businesses in Healdsburg during the "Illuminations" public art project. Photo courtesy Jessica Martin.

Healdsburg locals and visitors alike will see the Healdsburg plaza and business district in a new light as a public art project illuminates the town at night.

Running through the month of January, “Illuminations” is an innovative, socially distant walking art tour featuring large-scale light installations by several of the top North Bay and Bay Area contemporary artists. The public art project also includes interactive light-art sculptures and custom-built light tunnels and other immersive environments.

The walking tour is the latest in an ongoing series of temporary art projects taking place in Healdsburg. The series, “Voices,” aims to bring joy to the community in dark times as well as reflect the diverse array of artists in the North Bay.

Project organizer and curator Jessica Martin is a Bay Area native now living and working in Healdsburg for 20 years.

“It’s my mission to promote the creative innovators in Sonoma County,” Martin says. “Over the course of the years I’ve lived here, I’ve been seeking out some of the artists who are really pushing the boundaries of their own practice and the role of art in the community.”

Earlier this decade, Martin co-founded the 428 Collective with several other Sonoma County women artists, and quickly began putting on collaborative contemporary art exhibitions and events.

“The events were all based on the land here in Sonoma County,” Martin says. “We were creating temporary performances and installations in different spaces around the county.” 

Moving out of the traditional gallery space, Martin found herself curating exhibits in fields and along the shores of the Russian River. In 2019, Martin formed the Roving Venue project with artist Patrick Rhodes to continue putting on one-day events in unconventional art spaces. That project debuted at the old lumber mill in South Healdsburg, located in what is now called the Mill District, right before the mill was demolished.

“During that day, everyone kept saying over and over that art had given us a gathering place,” Martin says. “Everyone was craving a meaningful experience that created community and uplifted community.”

Encouraged by that response, Martin worked with the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce to secure a grant from the county’s Creative Sonoma program to develop “Voices” as a way to keep creating community during the pandemic in 2020.

“I saw that this was an opportunity to create something meaningful for our town through innovative art projects,” Martin says.

“Voices” opened its series of projects at the end of October 2020 with a Dia de los Muertos event featuring street paintings. In November, the series debuted a collection of 20-foot murals in Healdsburg Plaza. Now, with “Illuminations,” the series makes its biggest–and brightest–mark on Healdsburg yet with a walking art tour that takes approximately an hour to experience.

Martin says that many people begin the tour with the “New Year’s Light Archway” created by Jordy Morgan and located in Healdsburg Plaza. The archway holds hundreds of LED candles representing New Year’s wishes that visitors can add to when they visit.

Alice Sutro’s 30-foot-tall projected animations of local business owners and workers is another popular stop on the walking tour. Sutro’s “Downtowners” installation is located in the parking lot of John & Zeke’s Bar & Grill on Healdsburg Avenue. The animations are hand drawn on a tablet that records Sutro’s work in progress, leading some visitors to look around for the artist who they believe is working in real time.

“Illuminations” also has a not-to-missed audio component to accompany the visuals. Hugh Livingston has designed an app that plays in conjunction with the art installations that visitors are seeing.

“We asked each artist to pick a sound or piece of music or to speak directly about their work,” Martin says. “What’s great is the app is GPS-based, so it automatically plays as you walk around.”

The audio tours will continue in the spring, as “Voices” opens its final project, “You Are Here;” a collection of self-guided tours inspired by Healdsburg’s history and artist community.

For now, “Illuminations” is giving locals a way to get out of the house while feeling safe and staying socially distant. The installations will be up through January, and Martin is hoping to extend the project through February as well.

“This is a beginning for our town,” Martin says. “I look forward to making this an annual event in Healdsburg and to continue to support art and community.”

Get details on where to see “Illuminations,” including maps and the audio tour, at artinhealdsburg.com.

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