San Diego Initiative Park Society is all about rediscovering community

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San Diego Initiative Park Society is all about rediscovering community

Sheena Rae Dowling and Yvette Roman are laying out one of their picnic blanket artworks on the lawn of San Ysidro Community Park. As soon as this was done, Roman walked up to the three people sitting at the adjacent table and started chatting with them. Looking at the casual way she interacts with them, I can’t help but wonder if Roman knows these people, or is asking if they want to be part of the artist’s ongoing workshops that are part of Park Social, a multi- A multi-level, multi-artist public art project funded by the City of San Diego.

“Well, they’re participants now,” she said with a laugh. “We spend a lot of time in the park and every time we come here we walk around and we try to talk to people and make sure they know what we’re doing here and we’re not just taking over the park.”

San Ysidro Community Park is a bit odd compared to other parks, it sits between houses more like a large central park separating two busy one-way roads. Still, the park means a lot to the duo, who started working together seven years ago after working together at a nonprofit. Over the past few months, they have held a number of community “collection of memory” workshops, where the artist has spoken to residents and asked them to name a word related to the past few years. They plan to use the words in a large pavilion-like installation. They also collected discarded clothing from residents, cut strips and woven them into picnic blankets on custom looms to place outside the gazebo.

“A lot of people asked if they were selling and thought we were doing some kind of yard sale,” Roman said. “But that’s how we ended up inviting them over.”

“A thoughtful, intentional process”

San Ysidro Community Park is just one of two dozen urban parks that will host the Park Social, a public art initiative the city launched in May and will run through November. The nearly one-year project called for 18 local artists to create temporary public art installations in designated parks. Workshops and interactive events are underway, with mediums ranging from painting and dance to sculpture and even scent-based installations.

Park Social is arguably the most daring public art project the city has launched. Along with SD Practice, which has recently made a large purchase of local artists to add to the city’s civic art collection, the Park Society project is part of the city’s ongoing commitment to help support local artists impacted by the pandemic and the weakening economy.

“We’re seeing artists that are going to be hit hard by the pandemic, most of them working in the gig economy, or they’re independent contractors,” said Christine E. Jones, director of civic arts strategy for the City of San Diego Say. “Whether it’s a performance piece or a visual piece, because of the shutdown and everything that’s going on, we knew we wanted to do something to support the creative economy and support artists in particular.”

While these participatory events and workshops have been going on since May, some of the work the artists have been doing will debut or continue on July 16 when the city hosts its first Park Social Discovery Day. Nine participating artists or groups of artists will present their projects or host events. Jones said that while the city wanted to take this “staggered” approach to park socials — that is, not to have them all at once — they also felt a one-day showcase would be a way to attract more attention A good way to do this is the ongoing nature of the initiative.

“We’re always looking for ways to expand awareness and raise awareness of the role of the artist and the role that the artist can play in the community,” Jones said. “I think art in general and the idea of ​​art in everyday life and in everyone’s life is very important, especially for public art, even temporary art in public spaces, which is a different way of presenting or engaging with art. Each Individuals have access. Everyone belongs.”

Artists Yvette Roman (left) and Sheena Rae Dowling (right) at San Ysidro Community Park.

(Adriana Heldiz/San Diego Union-Tribune)

‘Many traditions’

While cities are promoting fundamental aspects of Park Social, one of the more underrated features is the concept of discovery. For many who may be interested in attending one of the many interventions, installations and workshops associated with Park Social, there are others who may find a nearby park that, for whatever reason, they have never been to before.

Local art duo Brian & Ryan (Brian Black and Ryan Bulis) witnessed the magic firsthand. When the pair first applied to Park Social, they had a rough idea of ​​what they might want to do for the project, but found that the uniqueness of a park in particular was something they wanted to really immerse in and hoped it would make a difference. Helped them create something more real to the space. The duo have chosen Chora Lake Park and are creating a series of billboards, sculptures and other artworks inspired and inspired by the park’s unique lore, as well as the artist’s suggestion boxes and interactions with the park’s regulars.

“That one seems to have the most connotation,” said Blake, who lives in nearby Emerald Hill and has been to Chora Lake Park several times. “Some people have been going to that park for over 40 years.”

For all the artists involved in Park Social, this immersive mentality seems to be paramount: while an artist may have a definitive final project, many of these projects are fluid and fluctuate based on the discovery process. This is the case with local artist Brian Goeltzenleuchter, whose work deals with olfaction (i.e., smell-based art), and who is planning his project at Linda Vista Community Park around the types of smells experienced in the park, especially those for cookouts.

“The idea is for all these people to migrate to the same place and bring a lot of traditions and somehow they come together with the food they eat,” said Goeltzenleuchter, who will be hosting a community cooking class in October according to Recipes he collected from nearby residents.

Mario Mesquita is another artist who repurposed his original concept over the course of his project.He saw his Paletas mobile lab in progress The art project is perfect for the Kennedy Community Park near Lincoln Park, where he distributes popsicles in moving carts to park visitors in exchange for filling out surveys or talking to him about their lives. His workshop begins this month and culminates with an event in October, when he will debut temporary wooden sculptures of popsicles featuring stories, photos and profiles of those involved in the project.

“I wanted to make something to celebrate fond childhood memories — eating ice cream on a hot day, getting together with people,” Mesquita said. “That’s how you have a conversation and discover what you have in common.”

‘work together’

Back at San Ysidro Community Park, Roman commented that her and Dowling’s installation in the park will be especially personal to her. She grew up in the South Bay, works in the area, and has family nearby. For both artists, they see Park Social as a means of participating in the ongoing healing process in a community that has been hit hard by the pandemic and the economy.

“I mean, it’s just the tip of the iceberg for us,” Dowling said, glancing at a finished picnic blanket, pointing to shirt labels and different materials. “We don’t think it’s going to solve the problems that people have been through for the past two years in some way, but people are starting to talk about the need for some of these spaces. We need teams and processes.”

Both Dowling and Roman spoke about some of their remarkable exchanges and interactions with workshop participants, some of which happened with local residents who happened to pass by and ask what they were doing.

“It’s great to see people going out and interacting with each other again,” Dowling said. “People weave each other and talk about things; people who haven’t seen each other in a while, or people they didn’t know before now work together.”

“Ultimately, you’re taking the clothes, you’re taking the words of these people, and then you embody it as something good for the community,” Roman added.

The pair hope to see this when they debut the gazebo installation and blanket on July 16. When asked what they hoped those who might have seen the installation but weren’t involved in making it might take away from it, Dowling said the message remained the same.

“Maybe it’s just that they’re not alone in what they’re going through. I guess my hope is that, in a sense, they’ll realize that we’re not going through this alone, that we’re not alone. There are other people who have the same Feelings, having the same fears, maybe having some similar experiences. I think just creating some empathy.”

Combs is a freelance writer.

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