For many, abstract explorations of “place” begin and end with polymathic superhero Buckaroo Banzai’s observation that “No matter where you go, there you are.”
Carin Jacobs, executive director of the Petaluma Arts Center (PAC), is interested in bringing more dimension to the concept with the latest of her series of evocative, quarterly-posted questions or “Thought Experiments.” Each query is designed to inspire the community to think about the notion of “place” and the arts—this quarter, the question is: “What are three special places that should be on any map of Petaluma?”
Collecting answers to this question is only the beginning of what Jacobs envisions as a much larger project.
Once she has 100 responses from the public, Jacobs will use them to discern the 15 or 20 most popular Petaluma landmarks. Next, she hopes to commission artists to create maps featuring these places (grant funding pending). The results, she suggests, could be displayed throughout the community, as well as in the arts center gallery, perhaps juxtaposed with archival maps from the Historical Society.
What follows is a recent email conversation between Jacobs and the Bohemian.
Bohemian: “Mapping” seems to have particular resonance for you and many conceptual applications—what about mapping inspires you so much?
Carin Jacobs: I suppose it’s possible to talk about “place” without a map, but as someone who has always felt comfort in knowing, rather than not knowing, spatial anchors are important to me.
One of the first exhibitions I curated was titled “Mapping Sacred Ground.” The artists interpreted the theme in unexpected ways, situating the sacred in the mind, in the home and in the heart, with nods to archaeological sites that had their own intrinsic reverence.
I suppose the subjectivity of “mapping” revealed itself then, and I wanted to explore it further. I am interested in how the answers to this Thought Experiment might differ from generation to generation. I’m referring there not only to grandparents and grandchildren, but to native Petalumans and to the robust transplant population we’ve experienced in the last several years.
B: Per your Thought Experiment—what are your three special places that should be on any map of Petaluma?
CJ: When I moved to Petaluma nine years ago, I didn’t know a soul. There were three sites that fostered community building and integration, so I guess those places have informed my experience of this town. They are PAC, where I volunteered, years before my current tenure as director; my neighborhood block near St. Vincent De Paul Church, and the towers that always seemed to orient me in my early phases of navigation; and Della Fattoria, where I never felt like an outsider and always ran into someone I knew.
B: What have you learned from the answers you’ve received?
CJ: I was surprised by the way the answers clustered themselves around natural landmarks, architectural landmarks, gathering places and businesses connected to the agricultural roots of Petaluma.
B: What are your three places?
CJ: My “Three Places” response was based on a newcomer’s experience of Petaluma. Since our sense of place is rarely static, nor is the landscape around us, it feels important to revisit my responses nearly a decade into my life here. In doing so, Petaluma Arts Center remains on the list, an anchor at the literal crossroads of town. It is now joined by the burgeoning cultural district just south and east of downtown (on both sides of the river) and by Petaluma Market-—part inspiration in the culinary wasteland that is cooking for one; part sustenance (even during surreal times); and part unintentional gathering place, especially in the wine aisle.
Answers to “What are three special places that should be on any map of Petaluma?” can be sent directly to [email protected].