Grizzly Bears to be Featured at Mission Creek Park

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Mission Creek Park, off Channel Street, will be home to a new public art installation by the end of next year; “The California Grizzlies of Mission Creek.” The two-part sculpture, by San Francisco artist Rigo 23, will feature a thirteen-and-a-half-foot tall mama bear and her six-foot tall cub, standing on their hind legs facing Downtown San Francisco. 

Drawings for the Mission Creek Park Grizzly Bear sculptures by artist Rigo 23. Image courtesy of Rigo 23

The sculpture was commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC), which invited artists to apply for the Mission Creek Park Public Art Project by last August. One hundred and thirty-five submissions were received. These were narrowed to three finalists, who each received a $3,000 honorarium. A final selection was made at a public meeting held last month in which each contestant presented their proposals.

Following the artists’ presentations a panel reviewed public comments on each proposal before scoring them in four categories: artistic merit; relevant skills and experience; the extent to which it’d be visually impactful, thematically connected to the land, and responsive to its Mission Bay location; and its feasibility and projected long-term maintenance.

Rigo 23 has significant public art experience. He’s a founding member of the Clarion Alley Mural project in the Mission District, a staple of San Francisco public art since its inception in the 1990s. His notable works include “One Tree,” 1995 to 2012, a mural of the titular words with an arrow pointing at a lone tree planted near the 10th and Bryant streets freeway ramp; and “Victory Salute,” 2005, on the San Jose State University campus, which celebrates Olympic athletes and SJSU alums Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

Texture detail for the sculptures. The bears’ “fur” will be crafted from ceramic tiles. Image courtesy of Rigo 23

 “The California Grizzlies of Mission Creek,” is an homage to the bear, the last of which was gunned down a century ago this year in Tulare County, and the Ohlone people who had a relationship to the animals and land before it was colonized by European settlers. The installation, which’ll be surrounded by native plants, will feature a QR code which visitors can scan to hear the words “grizzly bear” and “baby bear” spoken in a number of Indigenous dialects, deepening park visitors’ connection to the land and its history.

Each tuft of the bears’ fur will be made of individual ceramic tiles, produced by California Pottery and Tile Works in Los Angeles, making them easily replaceable in the event of repairs, a design strategy the artist successfully implemented in “Victory Salute.”

Out of $685,000, “the budget for artwork is $535,000 inclusive of all artist’s fees, as well as associated expenses for design, fabrication, insurance, and transportation,” according to the SFAC website. “A separate allocation of $150,000 has been set aside for site work and artwork installation.”

The Mission Creek Park Public Art Project is slated for completion in the Summer/Fall 2023.