Back-seat Driver: That silent red rabbit is a real talker

János Wimpffen of Washington came through the Sacramento airport recently, saw the big red rabbit, and decreed it “the world’s largest piñata.”

Two years after the 56-foot tall artwork was hung from the rafters in the new terminal, the imposing art piece remains a talker.

Some see it as an example of government wasting money on nonessentials. Others argue society is better when we have grand civic places, and when we give them some pizazz. (To that end: Major public projects in Sacramento are required to set aside a percentage of the construction budget for public art.)

Among rabbit lovers is Shelly Willis, head of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. She was on the airport escalator a few weeks ago when a woman in front of her announced, “I don’t like that rabbit.”

That woman’s companion replied, “I love that rabbit. It makes me happy.”

“Are you kidding me?” the first woman said.

For Willis, that little exchange is a sign of success. The best public art causes people to stop, look, and react. For a moment, viewers are transported away from their daily lives. At the airport, it provides a colorful welcome and a momentary reprieve from the hassles of traveling.

On the floor below, in the baggage area, kids crawl over the rabbit’s big granite suitcase, and travelers toss coins into the suitcase’s bizarre swirling vortex, using it as a wishing well. The Wall Street Journal ran a color photo of the rabbit recently for a story on airports as art galleries, and USA Today ranked Sacramento among the best airports for art.

“This (rabbit) is doing what it should be doing – making people talk,” Willis said. “It makes me certain this is strong work of art.”

Streetcar demo

Sacramento and West Sacramento officials are going to run a sleek, modern trolley car on light-rail tracks through downtown today , starting at 10 a.m. at the Township 9 station on Richards Boulevard.

It’s not our streetcar, though. Local company Siemens made it for Atlanta’s streetcar system. We’re just borrowing it for a day. But West Sacramento Mayor Chris Cabaldon and Sacramento Councilman Steve Cohn will offer an update before today’s run on where plans stand for a streetcar system here.

They’ve invited several Portland officials down to look at Sacramento’s initial plans – and offer some thoughts – about a trolley line linking the two cities over the Tower Bridge. Portland is the city that started the new trolley car craze nationally. Mike Powell of Powell’s Books, a trolley stop in Portland, is among the north city contingent here.

Pothole patrols

It’s pothole sweeps time in unincorporated Sacramento County. Call ( 916) 875-5171 or email www.sacdot.com to report your local pothole. County works will deliver and install a lump of black asphalt. Much better than a lump of coal.