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- September 9, 2010POSTED BY ED PARILLON
DIY Urbanism is a movement that arose in part from projects born out of the recession and resulting limited funds. But one project that has a more direct link than most is the San Francisco Arts Council's Art in Storefronts program. The economic downturn brought with it an uptick in empty storefronts, causing some harder-hit commercial strips to look blighted. Art in Storefronts seeks to counteract this by using art installations to enliven these vacant spaces. Efforts in the Mission, SOMA, the Tenderloin and Chinatown have been popular with merchants and pedestrians alike, and the SFAC has worked to make the installations into attractions in their own right, including publishing walking tour maps.
The Ms. Teriosa fortune-telling window in the Mission [Photo courtesy SFAC]
The recession has also hit other cities, of course, and many of these are trying similar approaches. In New York, groups like Chashama and No Longer Empty have worked to find vacant spaces for artists to display their work in the past, and now some commercial landlords are getting in on the act. A New York Times article profiled storefront art in Brooklyn:
"Any sort of activity is better than no activity," said Jed Walentas, a Brooklyn developer whose company, Two Trees Management, routinely lends space in Dumbo and Downtown Brooklyn for art projects. "As long as it's short enough and it's flexible, then there's no real cost. So the question is who can you find that's going to make an investment in a space with that level of uncertainty, and often it's the artist."
Meanwhile, in Southern California, Palm Springs undertook a similar effort last year to keep its shopping districts from looking too empty. As reported by the Los Angeles Times:
Eager to safeguard its image as an upscale tourist resort, Palm Springs is prescribing art therapy as a partial cure for downtown shops caught up in the economic doldrums.
The city is expected to adopt a plan requiring vacant stores to hang paintings, photographs of old Hollywood movie stars or come up with their own picturesque remedies to head off creeping blight in the city center.
"We have more vacant storefronts than we did in the past," said City Manager David Ready. "Many are transitioning or looking for new tenants. This program wouldn't cost the owner anything and would greatly improve the appearance of the buildings."
Local artists will be invited to showcase their work and the city will finance the installation.
Of course, while the economy will likely recover and many of these storefronts will once again become occupied, artists will still need opportunities to display their work. One hopes that this is one DIY Urbanism trend that outlasts the recession, and that even occupied stores will see some value in sharing space with the city's aspiring artists.
[Photo courtesy SFAC]
DIY Urbanism: Testing the grounds for social change, now on show at SPUR's Urban Center, features innovative "do-it-yourself" projects, providing a snapshot of this burgeoning and distinctively local movement.
- August 10, 2010BY ELIZABETH HOLDEN
Reflected Loop [Image via San Francisco Arts Commission]
We are visual creatures. As such, we derive our orientation of our relative location according to the landmarks and visual reminders around us. This is especially evident in how we navigate urban areas, by remembering a block near a notable statue or fountain in an otherwise crowded arrangement of buildings.
It's a common situation - getting disoriented in an underground or enclosed public transit station (even for those who are spatially inclined). Without any visual cues, it's easy to get turned around and then end up walking an extra block or two in hopes of reaching the final destination. The Central Subway Public Art Program hopes to remedy this common dilemma by installing "landmark" and "wayfinding" art pieces inside the future terminals, playing with our natural visual tendencies for orientation.
These installations will be tailored according to three stations: Chinatown, Union Square/Market Street, and Moscone. Through creative interpretations of the cultures of those three areas of San Francisco, these projects have the potential to be impressive art installations, questioning the standard of an unpleasant commute by bringing back the enjoyment of a grand public transit system.
In the Union Square station, Jim Campbell and Werner Klotz's Reflected Loop (above) strings a series of light and ambient reflections through the station. The band winds around the station and connects back with itself in a continuous loop that has no beginning or end. The polished stainless steel discs of various sizes will reflect light according to the spaces around them.
Passing Time [Image via San Francisco Arts Commission]
Inspired by the evolving development of Union Square from a rural environment to a residential area to retail business center, artist Keith Goddard's Passing Time (above) uses a series of intricate plaques to serve as visual reminders for areas of the station. He will use varied materials to make these mosaics.
The SFAC's Public Art Program brings the "public" back into public art through an innovative series of proposals for the station-specific installations. In preliminary stages, the plans were shown in three different museums for the three different stations, allowing for public feedback and for anyone to state preferences for particular pieces. "We are confident that the overwhelming participation of local and nationally known artists will result in artwork that displays the rich cultural diversity of our City and creates modern day art exhibits for the public to enjoy while awaiting their train in our new subway stations," stated SFMTA Executive Director/CEO Nat Ford. This intersection between arts and transportation exemplifies the new ways in which San Francisco is rethinking its public transportation and the importance of the visual mind in the process of traveling to and from places around the city.
- July 19, 2010BY ELIZABETH HOLDEN
Fritz Haeg's Animal Estates Snag Tower [Photo Credit: Monique Deschaines/FOR-SITE Foundation]
How does public art play with the space of an urban area? In San Francisco, public art is important to people, but open space is scarce. Open spaces dedicated to slices of visual quality, such as the POPOS or Pavement to Parks projects, engage the public in a conversation about art without the confinements of a museum. The recently opened Presidio Habitats redefines this conversation of art and place by exhibiting art in an urban national park.
This installation is unique because it is built for native animals. Architect Fritz Haeg embraces the idea of building for the animal client through his Animal Estates project, which he has installed throughout the United States and built according to the natural space of the specific area. One of these installations is Snag Tower in Presidio Habitats.
Haeg's work does not focus on promoting himself as an artist, but rather blends into the environment, like another tree, through its minimalist design. Snag Tower stands alone, but like a tree becomes a unique part in a collective whole. The FOR-SITE Foundation, which aims to promote "art about place," describes Snag Tower as "a prototype for a collective model home designed to accommodate six animal clients that would otherwise live in a snag, or standing dead tree, in the park." Haeg's desire to share the overlooked beauty of a dead tree, by recreating it with the Snag Tower installation, presents the public with a new definition of natural beauty.
In this initial phase, Presidio Habitats embodies art about place because it represents and interacts with the environment of the Presidio. Perhaps over time this unique example of public art will come to define the park. Haeg's piece in particular represents a subtle piece of architecture that defines and responds to its surroundings. Presidio Habitats stands apart from other public art installations because it changes the interaction of art and place in urban areas by graying the relationship between them.Tags: public art
- March 1, 2010BY ELIZABETH HOLDEN
After learning about new plans for San Francisco's public realm—widened sidewalks and bike lanes on Cesar Chavez Street and throughout the Mission District, a complete makeover of Fisherman’s Wharf—it was time to tackle a public space issue ourselves: Market Street.
SPUR teamed up with Next American City and the AIA to host an interactive charrette. Building on the Better Market Street Project, we brainstormed the transformation of Market into our city's grand boulevard and anchor.
[Image: Nelson Nygaard]
Jeff Tumlin of Nelson Nygaard kicked things off with an outline of what makes a great street: it invites participation, teems with people and offers transparency. It challenges our assumptions, inspires and surprises, plays with light and shadow and makes us feel sexy.
Brimming with sexy ideas, focus groups scattered to various corners of the urban center. Kim Havens of Wilson Meany Sullivan led the Commerce (Planning and Development) discussion and Karin Flood Eklund of MJM Management led Commerce (Shopping). Tim Papandreou of the SF Municipal Transportation Agency and Neal Patel (pictured) of the SF Bike Coalition facilitated the transit and bike conversations, and Jill Manton of the Public Arts Commission and Kit Hodge of the Great Streets Project took on public art and public space.
[Image: Colleen McHugh]
An interesting theme emerged: to achieve our goals, groups needed to work together. Sure, there were some specific requests, such as dedicated bus lanes and stop consolidation (transit) and regular exhibitions (public art). But the majority of ideas required a partnership. Commerce and public space needed help from public art programming to draw in crowds. Public art needed help from public space and transit for fresh new locations for work. Obviously successful transit and bike systems required cooperation. And the list went on.
So can we make Market Street an avenue of constant activity, our own Champs-Elysées? According to this charrette, if we work together, then yes.
- July 14, 2009BY MARY
Should you be driving on the highway in rural northwest Norway keep your eyes peeled for more than just the natural beauty. The Norwegian national road agency is in the midst of a $1.6 billion project that attempts to lure tourists to this often over-looked area by highlighting the landscape with architecture--in the shape of viewpoints, rest stops, benches, winding foot bridges and stairs leading you to the sea. It has already hired more than 45 architects, landscape architects and artists to create these eye-catchers. And you don't need a car to enjoy it! Some of the projects include resting shelters for bicyclists.
A rest house for cyclists.