A public art installation promoted by San Francisco rock legend Carlos Santana and designed by two local artists would have brought a message of peace to the new police headquarters in Mission Bay.
They envisioned a statue of a black angel, perhaps a victim of violence. It would be fashioned from melted guns confiscated through good police work. And at the angel’s feet would be an interactive boombox playing songs of peace, including an original tune from Santana.
But that concept didn’t work for the Arts Commission, whose staff evaluated proposals from artists to create installations for the future public safety building.
The original design for “Peace Brother” was conceived by Emma Macchiarini Morris, daughter of outspoken North Beach artist Daniel Macchiarini. Macchiarini Morris conceived of the idea after violence broke out near her Oakland home, Macchiarini said.
She brought her vision to Santana, who often buys work out of Macchiarini’s North Beach studio. Santana then asked Macchiarini Morris to work on a concept that could one day become a major public project on the streets of San Francisco, her father said.
In November, the Arts Commission solicited proposals for work that “honors the sacrifice and commitment of emergency first responders.” At that point, Macchiarini and his daughter proposed the Santana project.
Arts Commission staff chose 40 artists in the first round of the selection process out of 398 applicants, according to spokeswoman Kate Patterson. “Peace Brother” and its creators weren’t among the 40 who made the first cut.
The selection was based purely on demonstrated quality of past artwork and the artists’ professional experiences, not a specific project proposal, Patterson said.
“Over the years, we have found that the most successful public art projects are ones that speak to the surrounding community and/or those who use the facility in question,” Patterson said.
In the end, San Francisco Art Institute instructor and artist Paul Kos won a $1 million contract to design art at the building. Germany-based artist Shimon Attie and Los Angeles-based Merge Conceptual Designs also were awarded contracts, worth a combined $1.6 million.
But Macchiarini questioned whether the process is truly fair. He pointed out that his daughter’s idea promotes peace and the public safety building would have been perfect because it sits on the border of the Bayview district.
Arts Commission Director Luis Cancel agreed the idea is not one to be ignored, but it just didn’t fit the criteria put forward in the request.
“I’m sure that somewhere in San Francisco, Carlos Santana’s proposal could find a home,” Cancel said.
‘Peace Brother’ sculpture idea inspired by melted-down guns
Shortly after being given the mayor’s annual art award in 2010, rock star Carlos Santana was asked by Arts Commission Director Luis Cancel about a public art concept the musician was promoting.
“You’re a person who identifies so strongly with San Francisco and the Bay Area,” Cancel said in an interview posted to the commission’s website. “A lot of it reflects the values you identify with. And I know that you have been promoting an idea for a work of public art that is, I think, is pretty transformative.”
Santana responded by telling Cancel about the inspiration for “Peace Brother.” Santana talked about a woman who collected guns from gang members in the 1980s. She then melted the guns and turned them into angels.
“We wanted to do the same thing and take it to the next level,” Santana said. “Also, we want to put a boombox at his feet. He’s going to be 7 feet tall. So he’s actually going to be made out of guns, melted guns.”
Santana said the boombox would play up to 12 songs, including John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Bob Marley’s “One Love.”
The concept for “Peace Brother” is similar to a Benjamino Bufano sculpture that was commissioned by Mayor Joseph Alioto and the Arts Commission in 1968. That sculpture, which was eventually placed outside City College of San Francisco, is of St. Francis wearing a monk’s robe and cowl. That piece was made entirely of melted-down guns.