For the last few months I've been working on a public art commission for downtown Santa Rosa, CA, and traveled up there to install it last week. It was funded by the city for a program called "Downtown Connect", and four artists were commissioned to create works in an attempt to connect walkable points of interest in the downtown area. The call for proposals had a wishlist of themes, including a treasure hunt, so I crafted my proposal to be a series of nine installations spelling out the name of the city. I thought this would be a fun activity for children and their parents, when walking through downtown.
The original plan was to install them on various surfaces - building corners, light posts, utility boxes, the ground, etc. But on my initial trip to meet with the planner and walk through the targeted areas, we realized that acquiring all the different permissions and possible damage problems (skateboarders!) made my plan pretty complicated. There were large planters around downtown, and most being city property helped to simplify things. The plan was to start in Railroad Square, continue down 4th street, and end up at the Old Courthouse Square. Still not simple enough - some permissions never came through from the mall and in front of some storefronts, so another game change was done the morning I was set to install them.
If you've ever installed tile, you know that water is pretty important to have around - not only for clean up, but when grouting you end up rinsing and ringing out a big sponge more times than you can imagine. When I asked the organizers where I could access water, they told me I was on my own figuring that out. Okay.... I ended up buying big buckets at Home Depot and filling them up with a hose at the Airbnb where I was staying, then hauling them to each site. Luckily the Airbnb hosts were cool with that. I was staying in a cute little vintage trailer set up in their driveway. An added bonus was that they had chickens that they let me play with. Not that chickens are much for "playing", I just miss having them, and was happy to be able to briefly hold one.
Being a shy person, I was just a little terrified to spend several days installing these - sitting on streets and sidewalks in a busy area. But I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Most all of the comments from passersby were of a positive bent, and I met some interesting local characters ( a boisterous hot dog seller, a few odd wandering/drunken souls, a youth who asked me to glue one of my tiles to his prized bong). The most common remark was "Is somebody paying you to do this?". When I was scrubbing the grout off (which was very difficult with the textured tiles, complicated by the sun beating down on most which dried it too fast, plus limited water), several people thought I was doing some sort of penance by cleaning the planters.
It was a totally new experience to have strangers call out sanctions of approval from cars or walk by and give the thumbs up while I was at work. I'm used to working in solitude, often with a sprinkling of self deprication. All in all, a great experience! Which is why I keep pursuing the public art realm.