EBMUD dresses up a drab building with public art.

Gallery Spotlight: Very Civil Engineers


Published:

Roundtree-Baaqee and Wallenstein

Michael Singman-Aste

On the second floor of the East Bay Municipal Utility District building, in a fishbowl-like control room behind thick glass 30 feet wide, a trio of engineers sits at a bank of two-dozen computer consoles, monitoring a huge map striped with green and blue, representing the water sources for which they are responsible. But on the spacious landing just outside its windows, providing a soothing respite from the vigilance within, art lines the walls, as it always has.

According to Suzie Wallenstein, there has been an art committee since the EBMUD building at 375 11th St. was established almost two decades ago in a win-win-win scenario for employees, visitors, and artists. “This was our way of creating involvement with the community, and making the building a nicer space,” says Wallenstein, who has been on the art committee for 10 years, serving as chairperson the last five. The committee, which has 10 members with rotating curatorial duties, meets once a quarter.

“As much as we would like the art committee to be a larger percentage of our work here, all of us are working as part of the committee in addition to our normal day-to-day jobs,” says Charmin Roundtree-Baaqee, a member for the past five years. Both she and Wallenstein are civil engineers.

The art committee plans seven shows a year, three in partnership with EBMUD’s committees celebrating Hispanic and Asian-Pacific heritages and Black history month. Roundtree-Baaqee says that it is their goal “not just through the heritage-month shows, but through all of our shows, to highlight and to educate the community around us.” Exhibits are typically on display for six weeks.

The committee favors submissions by artists residing in EBMUD’s service area. Prospective artists can reach the committee through the “contact us” link on the EBMUD website, and must submit their portfolio along with a statement and bio, and a “proposal of what they’re envisioning displaying if accepted in our gallery,” Roundtree-Baaqee says.

Recent shows have included paintings by Erik Niemann, nature photography by Joan Gray, woodcut prints by Jianzhong Cai, and Visions of Afro-Latin America, a mixed-media exhibit by Umi Vaughan and Joshua Whitaker. According to Roundtree-Baaqee, “We’ve been able to get a really nice crop of artists, some folks whose work has been shown at museums across the world, and I think that’s been a good draw for new artists because it’s not seen as a stale environment.”

If accepted, curators hang the artist’s work, and provide a reception and advertising. Further sweetening the deal, EBMUD doesn’t take a commission from the sales. With those perks, they currently have a waiting list of two years.

The gallery is on the second floor of the EBMUD building, 375 11th St., and open to the public 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Monday–Friday, www.ebmud.com/art.

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