City launches interactive art program in parks – San Diego Downtown News


A two-year effort by local artists to create temporary art in local parks officially kicks off in May. The launch weekend for the brand new program funded by an anonymous family bequest and the city’s Public Art Fund will take place on May 21. Events and pop-up art installations will continue until November 20.

The 18 artists who applied and were accepted for the project are evenly split between each of the city council’s nine districts. Inside these neighborhoods, the artists had a budget of $15,000 to create temporary art instillations that encourage the public to interact with each other and with meaningful art. The project encourages people to go to public parks and also makes art more accessible to them as it involves many different neighborhoods rather than being limited to galleries and museums.

In Kensington Park, Trevor Amery has installed his artwork and is delighted that the children are already using it as an extension of the play area. Located between the small Kensington Library and the large playground, he built a platform 10 feet in diameter two feet off the ground with a curved surface that resembles the rippling ocean. He then carved kelp and other plants into the surface to convey his message of preserving the kelp forest in the midst of climate change.

Tim Murdoch’s moving wall of shipping pallets will appear during Park Social’s opening and closing ceremonies. (Photo courtesy of Tim Murdoch)

“It’s just kind of a 24/7 jungle gym where the kids are climbing all over the place, which is awesome. I love it,” he said. Amery explained that the lawsuits have made the playgrounds sterile, so he’s delighted that the children relate to each other outside of metal and plastic materials.

Before installing the platform, he had to pitch his idea to a panel of city council members and community members. They focused on the “nuts and bolts” of the installation to ensure it was safe for children. Based on that conversation, Amery chose a lighter hardwood so it wouldn’t get too hot in the sun and sanded and sealed the wood carefully to prevent chipping.

The platform functions as a stage, allowing people to create their own art. He also holds rubbing workshops on the first and third Saturdays for three months to teach the public how to carve the kelp sculptures to build designs. It documents the drawings people create and hopes to hold an exhibition of community-created art in the library at the end of the project. He is passionate about preserving kelp forests which is part of the message of the job.

“[Kelp forests] are a keystone species, forming the basis of their underwater ecosystem. To me, that sounds a lot like parks and the role they’ve played during the pandemic. They are creating safe spaces for people to come together, to get that social nourishment that was so lacking during isolation,” Amery said.

The other artist working inside District 3 of the City Council is Tim Murdoch. His inclusion in the project was coincidental as he had begun work on an artwork for the Port of San Diego which officials decided to reject. He had already started building boxes from shipping pallets when the city called for local artists.

“It was perfect because I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I kind of modified some aspects of the project to make it fit the parks, but basically I had already done the project,” Murdoch said.

At the start of the pandemic, he became obsessed with building the boxes to eventually create a moving sculpture. He started out using every palette available, but eventually became very demanding, only using colored palettes or featuring interesting wear patterns.

He will present the moving sculpture at the opening ceremony of Park Social at Fault line Park. With the help of other initiative artists who can salsa dance, the dancers will move the boxes into a wall that follows the fault line from the top of the park to the bottom. He hopes the public will also participate in moving the boxes. He will do a similar event at North Park Community Park and at the end of Park Social will do the same at Balboa Park in a closing ceremony.

He chose shipping pallets because they cross borders all the time.

“The project itself is really about how we create those boundaries and how they change all the time,” Murdoch said. “We can tear down and build these walls all the time and we can always come together as a community.”

He enjoyed working on
a temporary art project because there were fewer political and bureaucratic systems to navigate.

“Collective Memory” is a textile art installation that invites visitors to sit on the blankets outside or inside the dome to process collective memories brought on by the pandemic. It was created by Sheena Rae Dowling and Yvette Roman. (Photo courtesy of City of San Diego)

“I really like temp work because I think it’s good for the community to see lots of different ideas presented,” he said.

The stimulating art will be featured in a total of 28 parks over the next six months. The city is using the project as a way to support local artists and revive the arts industry after the economic impacts of the pandemic.

The city has [over] the last few years have really pivoted a lot to focus on uplifting local artists and creating opportunities for them,” Amery said.

This initiative is the first step in a larger plan to activate the city’s park system through cultural engagement and support for the arts.

Kayleen C. Rice