How Public Art Exposed Class Tensions in San Francisco — a series of conversations about art, class and race that emerged from “Block by Block,” a public art project.
The Artist With a Playful Idea for Public Seating in San Francisco
Reflections by Marisha Farnsworth, Designer at Hyphae Design Laboratory
Farnsworth’s role: Marisha Farnsworth is an Oakland native who has made a career in outdoor art installations, often using reclaimed materials. Having created art for Central Market before with the Luggage Store, she designed “Block by Block.”
Read the series intro: How Public Art Exposed Class Tensions in San Francisco
Marisha Farnsworth’s Perspective
One morning Laurie Lazer from the Luggage Store sent me a photo of someone sleeping on the platform’s swing. I texted her back and said, “Sleep on art.” If that’s where we’re at in Mid-Market — people need a place to sleep, then that’s the purpose it should be serving.
Our hope with “Block by Block” was it would bring people together. You have a really diverse population in the neighborhood: techies, people living in SROs (single room occupancy hotels), homeless people, and tourists…anyone can sit on “Block by Block,” unlike say a café behind a little wall. The idea behind “Block by Block” was to create a space that wasn’t obviously programmed.
It wasn’t clearly street furniture: there was a giant swing, a seesaw, and a stacked series of sculptural blocks.
When we installed it, I saw tourists taking photos there, people eating lunch there, it was just nice to have a break from the monotony of the sidewalk. But as time went on, you had people sitting outside at the tables at The Hall [the food court nearby], and the people sitting on “Block by Block”: you could really see a divided population.
Some city officials said the neighborhood wasn’t “ready to try art.” Yes, it is. I think part of the reason people were so upset when “Block by Block” was removed, is it provided a sense of place and people had become emotionally attached to it. They also took responsibility for the project in some ways. If I ever brought out a broom, the people hanging out would help clean and would discourage other people from graffiti-ing.
I definitely think it provoked a lot of really interesting conversations in the city. And I’m not talking about discussions about art — discussions about what’s really going on in the neighborhood. And to me, that’s a success.
This post is part of a series of conversations about art, class and race that emerged from “Block by Block,” a public art project.
Let’s hear from the next stakeholder…
The City Planners: Paul Chasan and Neil Hrushowy
The Entrepreneur: D’Mond Hill
The Changemaker: Ilana Lipsett
The Gatekeeper: Simon Bertrang
The Funder: Shelley Trott
The Neighbor: Wayne Shaw
The Guardian: Darryl Smith