Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, May 1, 2023 @ 3:13 p.m.

"SAFEKEEPING: The Art of Val Polyanin" Opens on Friday; Exhibit Will Feature Interview With the Artist

Val Polyanin's art will be on display the first Friday of the month through October at the new city hall building. | Computerized image courtesy of


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Staff thought Val Polyanin skipped town, abandoning his makeshift art gallery alongside U.S. 101 and leaving a note telling his landlord he wanted to donate his work to Crescent City.

But as Grant Coordinator Bridget Lacey and Jon Olson, the city's former public works director, were moving Polyanin’s paintings and sculptures to the old Bank of America building, home of the new city hall, the Ukrainian artist rode by on his bicycle. He lives just down the street, Lacey said.

“He brought over another 200 pieces of art. He makes art every single day,” Lacey told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Monday. “He feels like it’s safe with us. And he’s so grateful that it can live on somehow, some way.”

Polyanin’s work will live on where people can see it at least through October. The exhibition, “SAFEKEEPING: The Art of Val Polyanin,” will be open to the public the first Fridays of the month starting with a reception hosted by the Downtown Divas from 5 p.m.-7:30 p.m. this Friday.

Polyanin has donated a total of 914 pieces to the city, though only a fraction will be displayed for the public. After taking possession of the art, staff reached out to Annalise Flynn, a Kohler Foundation historian and a writer whose publication, Spaces Archive, featured Polyanin’s work years ago.

Flynn has helped staff choose which pieces to display and arrange them in such a way that it tells a cohesive story.

Crescent City is also working with oral historian Jillian Morrison, who is also giving context to Polyanin’s work “to tell the story about what this means beyond the art itself,” Lacey said.

“Probably the most difficult part was arranging the space and being able to take it from this really dense environment of being in shipping containers to this big open space and having it make sense,” Lacey said. “We’re arranging the space so there will be a write-up for each of the sections to talk about different aspects of his work. It really is quite a range of work.”

Video courtesy Redwood Voice

Polyanin gained asylum in the United States after jumping off a Soviet cargo ship near the Japanese island of Honshu and swimming to shore in 1986. According to the website the city created for the exhibit, the Soviet Union destroyed the work he left behind.

He immigrated beyond the Redwood Curtain and spent his life making art in the community. For many travelers, Polyanin’s humanoid creations were the first thing they saw of Crescent City when approaching from the south.

Last year, Polyanin found he could no longer afford the rent Hambro WSG charged. He left the company a note saying he wanted to donate his art to the city and left. Hambro was going to throw the art away if the city didn’t accept it, Ashley Taylor, the city’s economic development and recreation director, told the Outpost last year.

In February, city councilors gave staff an up-to-$10,000 budget to curate and display the work. This included $8,000 the city had already set aside for the project and an additional $2,000 to help chronicle Polyanin’s story. But councilors wanted a return on investment.

Lacey said she knew that hearing Polyanin tell his story was an important project component. But he didn’t want to be part of it and tried to maintain his distance. Finally, Lacey said she and Olson convinced Polyanin to sit down for lunch.

“I brought in a couple of cell phones and tripods and bad lighting and surprised him since he knew us personally. That’s how the interview happened,” she said. “It was not good footage, but it was what we had. I also had a volunteer, before we moved the art, to take drone footage inside and out.”

The city worked with local youth media organization Redwood Voice to create a video featuring Polyanin’s story.

“Redwood Voice did amazing things with the really poor footage we had and completely transformed it,” Lacey said. “They’re getting to be part of the art as well with their contribution.”

Another component of the Polyanin art exhibit will be to figure out a long-term solution to where and how to store his work. On the exhibit’s website is a way for people to provide their information if they want to be part of that conversation, Lacey said.

“SAFEKEEPING: The Art of Val Polyanin” will open at 5 p.m. Friday at the new city hall building, 240 I Street in Crescent City.


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