“Temporary urban theater” was the catch phrase last week when Philadelphia urban planner Todd Bressi, and the Austin-based design team of Lucy Begg and Robert Gay (Thoughtbarn) returned to Tacoma to discuss stage two of the Prairie Line Trail (PLT) public art plan. At an informal meeting at the Rain City Café, Thoughtbarn introduced 3-D scale models of their proposed onsite installation. A real alligator’s head (i.e., a café napkin holder) glared at the preliminary concepts – modular islands of “prairie grass” made from recyclable materials. Seated around the unusual centerpieces were historic preservationists, City arts administrators, interested citizens, artists and University of Washington-Tacoma (UW-T) staff.
Funded in part by a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) planning grant, Thoughtbarn and Bressi are developing the art strategy for a proposed $5.83 million, half-mile legacy trail connecting historic districts centered around the downtown museum corridor and UW-T. Now that the public art plan is halfway complete, it’s time to identify opportunities and how to make them work, said Bressi. A demonstration project will be unveiled on the trail site Nov. 12, featuring six temporary art installations by Tacoma artists, in addition to a commissioned work by Thoughtbarn, that will be up for two to four weeks. The goal is to create art experiences, “even guerrilla art within a sanctioned framework,” that will draw attention to the historic route even before its construction begins. The planning team compares the temporary art works to “urban theater”; a way of adding a layer of excitement and anticipation to this major downtown project.
All of the local artists designing installations for the demo project are participants in PA:ID (Public Art In Depth), an intensive, multi-faceted program created by the City of Tacoma. Developed and facilitated by artist Elizabeth Conner, this powerful course is providing selected artists free training and detailed mentorship in how to apply for and advance through the process of creating public art projects. PA:ID participants are all artists who have attained a level of success in their profession, and were selected through an application process. The Prairie Line Trail opening exhibition is one of several projects of Metro Parks, Sound Transit and Artscapes that will be open exclusively to PA:ID participants in 2011 and 2012. Continue reading