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Cheryl Haines

Oct 7, 2016

PlaceMakers: Cheryl Haines Talks about Art in the Presidio

Meet the person behind many art installations in the Presidio.


For 25 years, Cheryl Haines has developed site-specific exhibitions and programs that share “art about place” with new audiences. In 2003, she established the FOR-SITE Foundation, which fosters the creation and public understanding of place-based art through artist residencies, arts education, and commissions in outdoor, historic, and cultural sites.

Over the past several years, the Presidio has been proud to feature several FOR-SITE exhibitions and installations that help visitors see the park in new ways – including Presidio Habitats, which focused on the Presidio’s natural world, and the acclaimed series of works by Andy Goldsworthy.

FOR-SITE’s latest project is Home Land Security, an exhibition that reflects on the increasing complexities around national security. It’s open Wednesdays to Sundays through December 18, 2016 and is presented in partnership with the National Park Service, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the Presidio Trust. We talked with Cheryl about art and the Presidio.

What originally inspired your passion for art, and specifically “art about place?”

I’ve been working with artists for nearly thirty years – first as a private representative, then as a gallerist, and finally as a curator. Many of the artists I work with have a highly personal view of what I term “place.” This isn’t merely geographic, but socio-political, cultural, and psychological. For a city established by a highly diverse gold rush community perched on the Pacific Rim, place is a complex and intriguing topic for consideration.

The FOR-SITE Foundation has created numerous art exhibitions in the Presidio and Golden Gate National Recreation Area. What draws you to these parks again and again? 

Approximately 15 years ago, I began seeking alternate venues for artist installations as the white walls of a gallery can be restrictive both in terms of formality of presentation and inaccessibility to the general public. Artists such as Andy Goldsworthy sometimes require an out-of-door experience. I began to look for property that could potentially house an artist-in-residency program and facility for creating new work. Thus FOR-SITE was established in 2003 in Nevada City, California. After some years, it became apparent there could be a broader benefit if we expanded our activities to include public art installations here in San Francisco, which is what lead us to the Presidio. The rich cultural and natural history of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is abundant with inspirational stories and locations for artists to consider.

The FOR-SITE Foundation has since facilitated three Andy Goldsworthy sculptural installations in the park, including Spire (2008), Wood Line (2011), and Tree Fall (2​013)​ – as well as four temporary exhibitions, each with distinct themes.

Presidio Habitats (2011) was the first site-based art exhibition conceived for a national park – it featured the work of many artists addressing the habitats—of animals—historically indigenous to the park; International Orange (2012) celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, with works responding to the bridge as icon, historic structure, and conceptual inspiration; @Large Ai Wei Wei on Alcatraz (2014), wherein the internationally acclaimed artist and activist created works speaking to the island’s layered legacy as a 19th-century military fortress, a penitentiary, and site of Native American protest; and the current exhibition, Home Land Security.

Who are the artists involved with Home Land Security and why did you choose the Presidio’s Fort Scott as the backdrop? 

This exhibition brings together the work of 18 artists from 12 countries placed in former military structures that comprised a part of the Presidio’s coastal defense system. This exhibition does not provide answers; rather, it asks questions, such as, “What is home? Safety? What constitutes Security?”

Home Land Security explores the barriers and borders that we create, cross, and protect – both as individuals and as nations and, on a basic level, the role of “fear of other” in creating cultural disruption, misunderstanding that can result in forced migration, ethnic profiling, and loss of identity. It also touches upon the relationship between war and religion historically.

However, one cannot enter – particularly the coastal defense batteries – without focusing on the people that served here and their duty to defend. The human presence is palpable, and it’s easy to think of the veterans and their role historically for defense of this place.

What’s your favorite place in the Presidio?

There are many places in the Presidio that I’ve become aware of over the years of walking the park in search of sites for projects. If I had to choose one, however, I would have to say Fort Scott. The only Civil War fort on the west coast, it’s nestled under the south anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s constructed from bricks made on site, has a remarkable view from the roof, and it’s steeped in history and authenticity.​