fig. 3: Tenderloin Children's Playground
Collaboration with youth, Ceramic inlay, 1995
© Johanna Poethig


The collaborative public projects of many of these artists emanate from their concern for the welfare of young people. Johanna Poethig, in collaboration with neighborhood youth, created a series of ceramic installations for San Francisco's new Tenderloin Children's Playground. Poethig's commitment to giving voice to the problems and well being of young people is underscored by her role as artistic director for the Inner City Public Art Projects for Youth, a program of San Francisco's South of Market Cultural Center and Artspan, and other projects like the ceramic entrance way for the New Children's Shelter in San Jose, California.

fig. 4: River of Hopes and Dreams
Reclamation Sculpture Garden, 3 acres
Sanitary Fill Co., S.F., CA, 1992
© Susan Leibovitz Steinman

fig. 5: River of Hopes and Dreams
Reclamation Sculpture Garden, 3 acres
Sanitary Fill Co., S.F., CA, 1992
© Susan Leibovitz Steinman

In her many community based environmental endeavors over the past five years, Susan Steinman has worked with various groups of individuals, including high school students. River of Hopes and Dreams (1992), a sculpture garden created with students from Philip and Sala Burton High School; and For the Birds (1994-95), a project installed for six months in a downtown Concord, California park created with at-risk teens who made "positive" bird sculptures for forty surrounding trees, interweave Steinman's desire to empower imperiled youth with her deep concerns for the natural environment.

fig. 6: Oshagloo, Nigeria
S.F. Market St. Art in Transit program
© Caryl Henry, 1996

fig. 7: Recovery Shampoo
Underdog Ad Agency and Incarcerated Women
© Caryl Henry, 1995

Identity issues, which have formed the core of much of the artistic vision of the 1990s, are also visible in public space. Caryl Henry's Bus Shelter Project, a 1996 undertaking sponsored by the San Francisco Arts Commission's Market Street Art In Transit program, reveals the incorporation of personal experiences she had in Nigeria. Her dynamic and colorful images convey a positive public image of African Americans, and demonstrate the significant influence Henry's exposure has had on the development of her self-image as an African American woman and artist. The Arts Commission's encouragement of positive public attitudes toward and within at-risk populations is also demonstrated in Poethig's 1994-95 Bus Shelter posters. Created with seniors and incarcerated females, these images expose the artist's ability to incorporate humor as a tool for promoting public awareness and sensitivity toward others.

Also involved with women's issues - in this case, the impact of eating disorders in American culture - Robin Lasser has used a poignant anecdotal strategy to convey her literal and metaphoric concerns regarding waste and wasting away. Lasser's multi-venue public statements of concern about eating disorders include bus shelter posters and billboards planned for spring 1998 in Santa Clara and Sacramento counties, as part of National Eating Disorder week.

fig. 8: Fear of Fat Eats Us Alive
© Robin Lasser, 1997 (in collaboration with Kathryn Sylva)

While a broad spectrum of social problems have been given a voice in civic space, issues of more universal concern that often remain more hidden are also being addressed by contemporary artists. As part of her UCSF Mt. Zion Healing Garden, 1996-97, Ann Chamberlain collected stories from patients, their friends and family members, who have dealt with life-threatening illnesses.

fig. 9: Story Tiles
UCSF Mt. Zion Cancer Center
© Ann Chamberlain, 1994-1997

These narratives are inscribed on ceramic tablets, which have been installed in the garden, and are part of a larger project involving plantings, intimate and collective gatherings and events that enable patients and staff to express their feelings of celebration, thanks or mourning.

fig. 10: Take Root
Chinatown Public Library
San Francisco Art Commission
© Rene Yung, 1993-96

Like Chamberlain, Rene Yung has done large public projects like Take Root (1993-96), created for the Chinatown Public Library in San Francisco, as well as more personal work with the frail and elderly at the Mt. Zion Institute on Aging. Having grown up in colonial Hong Kong until her teen years, Yung's work also combines visual imagery with text to explore issues of culture and identity.


All text © Terri Cohn.