“The first time I saw it, even by flashlight, I could see that there was something very satisfying there and that it was rather unique. Basically, it was the scale of it and the fact that there were a lot of fine materials there. You could just see that right away.” — David Ireland (AIR ’86) on his first visit to the boarded-up buildings that would become Headlands Center for the Arts.
When Headlands Center for the Arts took up residence at historic Fort Barry in 1984, part of our mandate was to rehabilitate and steward the historic structures that would comprise our campus. Artist studios, offices, and public spaces are located in two four-story former army barracks: voluminous structures with big windows; tin ceilings; oak balustrades; maple floors; and yard after yard of history, character, and possibility.
Our ongoing commissions initiative invites visionary artists to reimagine the spaces as art projects, giving them new meaning while honoring their original designs and architectural integrity. As much archaeological site as it is artistic endeavor, each project gives artists and visitors an opportunity to experience a work of art from the inside out.
Rodeo Room and Eastwing
(1986–7): Artist David Ireland collaborated with sculptor Mark Thompson to rehabilitate the stairwell and second-floor meeting rooms of our main building. They stripped away layers of paint to reveal the walls’ 80 years of history, then meticulously preserved it like prehistoric plants in amber. With architect Mark Mack, Ireland designed the circular, tiered seating and tables we use daily. It’s a system that has within itself the potential to create things. Lightweight and virtually indestructible, their materials reflect the qualities of their surroundings.
(1988): Bruce Tomb and John Randolph updated our public bathrooms, bringing in elements to suit Headlands’ contemporary needs while retaining much of the room’s original martial characteristics. Their respect for raw materials and flair for enhancing a space through the use of light and surface treatments reveal the raw essence of the place. Touches of whimsy contrast with historical hardware, from the chain-link flushers suspended from the ceiling to the heavy (and loud) steel partitions between stalls.
The Mess Hall
(1989): Artist Ann Hamilton spent a year on campus living and breathing the restoration of our Mess Hall, originally used to prepare meals for the 120 soldiers who lived here. Committed to creating a space that would convey warmth, comfort and community, Ann commissioned the esteemed Alan Scott to build a classic wood burning, brick oven and curated the acquisition of the hodgepodge of plates, glasses, utensils, and chairs that have become a signature feature of the dining experience here. The northern walls are covered with luminous images of plants and animals from vintage sources, a subtle link between the interior and the natural world on the other side.
(1999): Artist Leonard Hunter and architect Mark Cavagnero led the award-winning transformation of this building’s interior, with intricate metalwork and strong contextual reference to the surrounding landscape. The building now houses our Affiliate Artist program, giving artists a space to collaborate across disciplines and learn from each other.
(2008): Amy Franceschini (AIR ’03) and Michael Swaine (AIR ’03) created the Headlands Victory Garden, taking inspiration from the victory gardens planted at private residences during World Wars I and II. The garden continues to flourish, providing fresh produce and herbs to our kitchen staff and literally feeding our creative pursuits.
The Key Room
(2016): Carrie Hott (AIR ’14) conceptualized and built The Key Room to serve as both permanent art installation and visitor resource center on the first floor of Headlands’ main building. The Key Room is a multifaceted, multi-media project which draws on Headlands’ history from all angles, and includes original visual imagery and video footage of the site created by Hott, a cabinet of objects from Headlands’ own material collection, and a bank of phones which play prerecorded audio tracks, sounds, and interviews from various moments and key players in the Marin Headlands’ history.
(2017): Headlands enhanced the campus and services to the public with The Commons, an outdoor space designed to enhance the experience for artists and visitors alike. The $1.8 million project—sited between and immediately surrounding Headlands’ two main buildings—reimagined an unpaved parking lot and gravel pathway as a thoughtfully designed outdoor space for art and everyday use. The Commons expands services for artists and visitors with more than 3,000 square feet of new programming space; three newly commissioned permanent artworks by Ball-Nogues Studio, Chris Kabel, and Nathan Lynch; and additional places to gather, relax, and enjoy the area’s renowned natural beauty.