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Art + Community: Curator Shannon Riley Explores the Connective Impacts of Public Art at SOMO Village

Take a stroll through SOMO Village and you’ll notice many public art pieces and larger-than-life installations. 

Art connects us to stories, to each other, and to the land. That’s what makes it a vital heartbeat of SOMO Village—part of our community’s DNA.

Over the last few years, we’ve worked with Building 180, a women-led, full-service global art production and consulting agency, to curate three art pieces for SOMO Village—with more on the way. 

We recently spoke with Shannon Riley, founder and CEO of Building 180, to dive into how this partnership came to be, why public art is so important, and the stories behind SOMO Village’s art installations. 

SOMO Village: Your company’s mission is to bring more public art into the world. Why is this important for communities?

Shannon Riley: To me, art can be a standalone experience where people just walk by, maybe take a picture, and move on with their day. 

But I like to believe it can also be a lot more than that—it can be a subconscious experience of something that’s planted there and offers a new way to engage with the environment in which it’s placed; it can be momentous, it can be healing. 

Public art creates space for people, and it invites them to take a pause—to reflect and experience the moment and the artwork. 

Artists usually have some kind of intention or statement with their works and, especially when it’s a message from someone in the community, you, as the audience, engage in a kind of dialogue with the artist about these big ideas—sometimes in a playful way, and sometimes in a deep way.  

At first glance, art can be something that’s fun and simply offers a refreshing distraction from your daily routine. Take the giant “Quails” installation at SOMO Village, for example. They’re larger-than-life and invite a playful interaction. Instead of rushing by or staring at your phone, you’re invited to pause and enjoy. 

But as you do, you can go deeper into the meaning of the piece. “Quails” is made of reclaimed materials and embodies the idea of turning trash into treasure, which is incredibly fitting, given the environment where it lives. Art and life share that parallel: the experience becomes more profound as you engage more deeply with it.

Why is it so important to you that you’re able to bring art into public places?

I was introduced to art in museums as a child. But it always felt a little stuck-up or like it was exclusively intended for “higher” society. 

You need to pay to get into a lot of museums, and I couldn’t always connect to it. 

But when I’d see art at festivals or in public spaces, it definitely became a different experience for me. It made art feel accessible to everyone rather than it being something that’s unapproachable. 

And this is the experience that SOMO Village wants, too. They’re all about creating conversation, creating communal spaces, and introducing a lot of intentionality around the artwork. 

With that being said, can you reflect on how your collaboration with SOMO Village came to be? 

When I first met the SOMO Village team, they shared with me their vision for the community they were building and explained why they felt art was such an important component of creating a community.

We were on the same page from day one. 

I showed them some of the artists I work with to see what might be a good fit and, since then, it’s been such a great collaborative experience. 

One thing I really appreciated about SOMO Village is that they really care about the artists and the work that’s being placed. It’s not just a plug-and-play or drop-it-and-leave kind of thing—they really care about the statements behind the artwork. 

So, what did your art curation process look like for SOMO Village? 

Each piece curated is unique in its own way. One piece was brand new and then two others were existing to some degree.

The SOMO Village team was intentional about working with the artists, which aligns with our own values at Building 180. We are selective about who we work with and found SOMO Village’s values to be aligned with our own, making it a great cooperative process. 

Because of SOMO’s commitment to collaboration with artists, the pieces really took on new life.

For example, Katy Boynton’s piece, “Heartfullness,” is a story about a broken heart—something I think we can all relate to. The message is that you can pick up the pieces of your broken heart, stitch it back together, and become stronger and more beautiful from it. 

The team at SOMO Village really resonated with this, and they wanted to make it specific to their location in Rohnert Park. 

So, the artist added a piece of a redwood tree—a tree that’s native to the land—into the center of the installation to connect all the pieces of the heart. Now it has its own story and perspective, and a tangible connection to the place where it resides.

And another piece that was sort of in existence already is “Sheila Direwolf” by artists Yustina Slanikova and Joel Dean Stockdill. They like working with reclaimed material and have an incredible outlook on how we can reclaim our trash and turn it into treasure. 

But what’s interesting is that SOMO Village also contracted Yustina and Joel to create a brand-new piece for them—“Quails.”

For this piece, the artists used scrap metal and materials that they collected from the old Hewlett-Packard and Agilent Technologies facilities that once stood on the land where SOMO Village is being built. 

So, “Quails” is 100% recycled and made out of pieces of SOMO Village—a direct connection to SOMO Village’s commitment to sustainability and their intentionality behind the artwork. It takes time to collect recycled materials and the artists collected it by hand, so this piece was fueled by intention and collaboration right from the start. 

To be honest, a lot of developers see art as an afterthought, like it’s the last thing to include—a box to check. When they realize recycled art could take a year to build, all their talk about sustainability is thrown out the window because they’re not willing to take the time. 

But creating sustainable, original, and authentic public art really needs to be a thoughtful, intentional, and slow process. And that’s what we’ve done at SOMO Village.

The Stories Behind the Art

“Quails” by Yustina Salnikova & Joel Dean Stockdill

Quails public art at SOMO VillageThe family of quails began as an invitation to create a custom sculpture for SOMO Village during their recent development project. We began a dialogue with SOMO and were introduced to Nicole Myers-Lim, a Pomo leader and Executive Director of the California Indian Museum & Cultural Center. 

Our desire as artists was to honor the land and the local animal species while paying homage to the indigenous people who have called this land home and sanctuary for many thousands of years. Nicole spoke with us about the importance of certain animals to the Pomo people and kindly shared many written stories of Pomo mythology and narrative. 

We collectively decided that the quail or the “sakaka” would be a very suitable animal for our project. Many of the stories regarded “Quail Woman” as the most beautiful maiden in the village. Quail is also representative of a sense of home and family. Quails also had a big influence on Pomo basketry, with their feathers incorporated into the design.  

Each of our quail sculptures was built by hand. A steel frame of mostly recycled steel makes up the sub-structure of the birds. The feathers are made from recycled steel sheet metal, most of which was scrap from the demolition of former office spaces within SOMO Village in the construction of the new co-working space. 

Read more about the Quails sculpture and consider donating to Pomo/Indigenous-lead organizations to honor these sculptures and visitors on Pomo land. 

“Sheila Direwolf” by Yustina Salnikova and Joel Dean Stockdill

Sheila Direwolf public art at SOMO VillageSheila is modeled after a dire wolf, a prehistoric canine that used to roam this continent. Fossil records inform us that a dire wolf was only slightly larger than modern-day wolves. 

Our wolf was designed to be larger-than-life at roughly 12 feet tall. Her bones are made of reclaimed steel and her “skin” is made of the decommissioned gutters of the studio where she was built.  

Sheila reminds us of what was on this land before we humans hunted them to extinction. She is located in an area that will soon be a dog park, allowing dogs and their owners to connect to their ancestors in a unique and fun way.

Sheila has a complex and beautiful story. We truly believe that every object has its story and that remembering and honoring these stories is a key point of reconnection to our material world. Here we offer what we can of the story of Sheila’s body, while also honoring that the history of each object goes beyond these stories, what we know, and what we can comprehend.

Read more about Sheila Direwolf and watch a video about the creation and installation process at SOMO Village.  

“Heartfullness” by Katy Boynton

Heartfullness public art at SOMO Village with artist Katy Boynton“Heartfullness” is a steel sculpture of a heart that has been repeatedly broken and pieced back together. While it may be damaged and pieces may be missing, this weathered heart is stronger and infinitely more interesting.

Life presents many things that can break the heart, but true happiness comes from overcoming those obstacles and mending your heart in every way imaginable to love again.

The interior skeleton is made of steel and covered by reclaimed sheet metal pieced together to represent a beautiful reconstructed heart. LEDs, lights illuminate the sculpture at night.

Read more about Katy Boynton and her artwork. 

Shannon Riley from Building 180

Shannon Riley

If you’d like to learn more about Shannon’s work to bring public art to life, visit Building 180 and check out their past and current projects. 

We’d invite you to stop by SOMO Village and view these works of public art for yourself. And if you’re looking for a community that puts people and sustainability at the heart of everything, download our project brief to see if SOMO Village is the right place for you. 

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