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San Francisco Chronicle: Chevron admits it took down public art project that criticized the oil giant


San Francisco Chronicle

Chevron admits it took down public art project that criticized the oil giant

Michael Cabanatuan | June 7, 2023

The mystery of who removed the colorful wooden slats of a Richmond public art project criticizing Chevron has been solved.

 It was Chevron, a spokesman for the oil company admitted on Wednesday.

Fencelines, a public art display consisting of colorful wooden slats inserted into the openings of a chain link fence between North Richmond neighborhoods and Chevron’s refinery, was a community project, conceived, created and installed over three years as an environmental justice message.

The slats, painted bright shades of red, blue, yellow and white contained messages including:  “My home is not your profit,” “We deserve clean air,” “No more oil — for our children’s future.” Others blamed Chevron for polluting the air and called for the refinery to shut down.

The slats were installed on a 1,000-foot stretch of fence along Richmond Parkway on Earth Day, April 22. A person who lives near the installation noticed the Fencelines stakes missing on May 16.

Project sponsors told The Chronicle on Monday they had no suspects in what they labeled the theft of their art project. 

But Chevron officials, after a Chronicle story on Tuesday, sent a statement acknowledging the company removed the project because, it claimed, the fence was on the corporation’s property. 

“We have a tradition of supporting free expression,” Chevron spokesman Ross Allen said in a statement. “We were not contacted about this activity on our land or fence.

Project organizers insist that Richmond city officials said the fence was on their property and issued permission for its use.

“As standard practice, our crews remove foreign objects on fences due to safety and security concerns,” Allen said. “We place the highest priority on the health and safety of our workforce, and maintaining a safe and secure operating environment helps us protect our assets, our community and the environment.”

Graham Laird Prentice, lead artist on the project, and Roberto Martinez, exhibitions director at the Richmond Art Center, which assisted with the project and displayed a related exhibit in its museum, said they were surprised Chevron was to blame.

“We had an inclination it might be Chevron but we didn’t have the evidence,” Martinez said.

But they knew that the community comments calling for a Chevron-free future might rub the corporation the wrong way, he said.

Prentice agreed.

“We think it’s pretty weird that they disappeared the project without any kind of communication with us,” he said, noting that it was well publicized and promoted. “Also, (the removal) seems to have transpired during the night. It’s pretty shady stuff.”

Prentice said the coalition behind the public art project is working with the city and planning an official response to Chevron.  An art-oriented response is also a possibility, especially if the creators can get back the slats that were removed.

“We’re going to make sure everybody knows Chevron is taking responsibility for this act of erasure,” he 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 disappearance last month in Richmond, near the Chevron refinery. 


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