If you haven’t yet visited the First Street Green, about a block east of downtown where the grass abuts the marshland along the waterfront, you don’t want to miss the thought-provoking piece of temporary public art with a wonderfully created biolabyrinth raingarden.
I heard both complimentary comments and complaints about the bright orange sculpture from folks who have seen it. Perhaps those who didn’t care for it saw it from a distance, and presumably didn’t read the information board letting visitors know that it is there to educate, collect data, and then be removed in March of this year.
As an outgrowth of 2004’s passage of Measure C, the Waterfront Park Initiative, in October 2014, the City of Benicia certified the Urban Waterfront Enhancement Master Plan, which, once funded, will improve the area along the waterfront from First Street to the Marina. A grant for $140,000 from the Coastal Conservancy allowed the City, with public input, to design such additions as an entry plaza, public art and seating, trails, a boardwalk and viewing platforms among other improvements, including stormwater raingardens.
Stormwater runoff, as it flows from driveways, paths and roads, picks up pollutants such as oil, lawn fertilizers, pesticides, pet waste and more. A $30,250 grant from the Creative Work Fund allowed Arts Benicia to collaborate with artist Mark Brest van Kempen, over an 18-month residency period, to create the temporary raingarden, in the shape of a labyrinth, as an experiment for filtering for stormwater runoff. Although raingardens as biofiltration methods are not a new concept, an artistic labyrinth along our slice of waterfront is certainly an interesting and novel way to model one. A raingarden filters out pollutants and allows runoff to be absorbed into the ground to significantly decrease the amount of stormwater flowing into tributaries and larger bodies of water—in this case—the Carquinez Strait.
The unique labyrinth is set inside a round, raised container. The color chosen to paint the outside of the container and outflow support structure was International Orange, the color of the Golden Gate Bridge, as a nod to our proximity to the San Francisco Bay. Designed by Brest van Kempen, it was constructed with help from Arts Benicia volunteers beginning in January of this year.
The sculpture includes a basin below the labyrinth and an adjacent solar collector. The energy generated from the solar panel powers a pump to bring water from the basin back up into the labyrinth, to circulate through the plants, and then down the outflow ramp, where it runs back into the basin. Brest van Kempen will collect water from local creeks, have it tested, then put through the labyrinth and re-tested. The water samples before and after will then be compared. According to Larnie Fox, who retired as Arts Benicia’s Director in March, "This is an area that is really interesting: how can art interact with the environment in a way people don’t typically conceive of as art? A fair amount of interesting work is being done in relation to community and environment where artist are taking on leadership roles to do what needs doing, but in a way that humanizes the results. The Biolabyrinth Raingarden engages people in an artistic way: it helps with cleaning the environment and storm surge, but also inspires people to bring their friends to look at it and share it.” After analyzing the results, the final step will be to present the information along with photos, videos and other material about the project, from conception to deconstruction, during the ABAiR (Arts Benicia Artist in Residence) exhibition at the Arts Benicia gallery June 14-28. The opening reception will be held at the gallery June 20, 7-9pm. For more information about the ABAiR raingarden project or the Urban Waterfront Enhancement Master Plan, visit artsbenicia.org, artsbeniciablog.blogspot.com or ci.benicia.ca.us.