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San Francisco Chronicle: A huge Bay Area art installation near the Chevron refinery vanished. The artists say it was stolen


San Francisco Chronicle

A huge Bay Area art installation near the Chevron refinery vanished. The artists say it was stolen

Michael Cabanatuan | June 6, 2023

A Richmond public art display championing social justice, criticizing Chevron and brightening a dreary industrial part of the city has vanished weeks before it was scheduled to end — and the artists are trying to figure out who’s responsible.

A colorful collection of wooden slats woven into a fence along the Richmond Parkway near the Chevron refinery, titled “Fencelines: A Collective Monument to Resilience,” “has been completely disappeared,” the sponsors announced in a statement.

“We are seeking the public’s help in locating hundreds of ‘slat’ painted wood art pieces,” the statement said. “It is believed the art pieces were stolen or deliberately removed between the evening of May 15 and May 16. We ask you to stand in solidarity with the Richmond community in demanding that our art pieces be found and returned.”

The exhibit was installed and unveiled on Earth Day, April 22, and stood undisturbed along the 1,000-foot stretch of Richmond Parkway, a busy connection between Interstates 80 and 580. A person associated with the installation who lives in North Richmond near the fence line noticed it was missing on the morning of May 16.

So far, none of the pieces of the art project have been located, said Graham Laird Prentice, lead artist on the project, and team members have no solid leads on who is responsible for their removal.

“We don’t have any direct evidence, so we’re not making any accusations,” Prentice said. “What we’re pointing out is that we’ve been working on this project for three years now in collaboration with the city and Richmond community organizations.”

Spokespersons for Chevron did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Richmond police and the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office have been contacted, and the team behind the installation were seeking footage from traffic cameras in the area. They’ve also checked with the city’s Public Works Department to make sure the slats weren’t removed as part of a cleanup or maintenance effort, Prentice said.

The public art project, three years in the making, consists of the wooden slats painted red, yellow, blue or white with each bearing a message from an individual or family promoting environmental justice or community solidarity: “My home is not your profit,” “We deserve clean air,” “No more oil — for our children’s future.”

Some, not surprisingly, criticized Chevron, calling for the oil company to stop polluting the air or to shut down altogether.

For decades, Richmond has had a  strained relationship with Chevron, whose refinery and related offices are its largest employer. But while the oil company provides jobs, it’s also brought concerns over pollution and the effects on residents’ health. The refinery, its impacts on Richmond and its future have long animated the city’s often bitterly divided political scene.

The artists are convinced that whoever tore down the public art display — done with approval of the city and its art center, which had a more traditional indoor exhibit in conjunction — did so deliberately.

“Our view is that this was a deliberate act of erasure,” Prentice said, “and an attempt to silence what people have to say.”

If that was, in fact, the goal of the thieves, Prentice said, it didn’t work. During the exhibit at the Richmond Art Center, visitors were given the chance to paint their own slats and deliver their own messages. And “Fencelines” organizers are deciding where and how they should be displayed.

“We have hundreds more slats,” Prentice said.

    Written By Michael Cabanatuan

    Michael Cabanatuan is a general assignment and breaking news reporter who’s covered everything from wildfires and sports fans to protests and COVID masking requirements. He’s also written extensively about transportation and covered Contra Costa County for The Chronicle. He’s ridden high-speed trains in Japan, walked in the Transbay Tube, been tear-gassed in Oakland and exposed to nude protesters in the Castro. Cabanatuan worked at the Paradise Post (long before anyone heard of the town), the former West County Times (in Richmond) and the Modesto Bee before joining The Chronicle. He is a two-time graduate of UC Berkeley.

    Top image: The “Fencelines” art installation prior to its mysterious disappearance last month in Richmond, near the Chevron refinery. The installation, made up of hundreds of painted slats, is missing after what the organizations behind the project say was a deliberate act to silence its message of environmental activism. Provided by Graham Laird Prentice


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