Open Spaces Program to help Lemon Grove design its own public art

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Members of the Lemon Grove community turned out last Tuesday for the introductory meeting by Open Spaces, a project of the San Diego Museum of Art. The Open Spaces program focuses on the creation of public artworks in selected neighborhoods. Lemon Grove is the newest recipient of funds from the James Irvine Foundation for an art project to be completed by January 2015.

Members of the Lemon Grove community turned out last Tuesday for the introductory meeting by Open Spaces, a project of the San Diego Museum of Art. The Open Spaces program focuses on the creation of public artworks in selected neighborhoods. Lemon Grove is the newest recipient of funds from the James Irvine Foundation for an art project to be completed by January 2015.

Alexander Jarman, the artist-in-residence of SDMA, will be working with Lemon Grove resident Richard Luna, who has been hired on as the lead artist for the project. Irma Esquivias, project director, will work on coordinating the information and input from the community members.

“We are excited that Open Spaces is here in Lemon Grove,” said Helen Ofield, president of the Lemon Grove Historical Society. “All of your ideas are extremely important.”  

Open Spaces gets public art into the community, based on what the residents express they want. 

“It will be what you want to celebrate in your community, something that the whole community would be proud of,” said Esquivias, who headed up the first Open Space projects for Lincoln Park and Logan Heights. The initiative began in May 2013.

“A program like this has never been done. Usually what happens is someone else decides for the residents what public art will be created,” she said.

A classic case in point is the art created in Grand Rapids, Michigan. La Grande Vitesse, a public sculpture by American artist Alexander Calder, is located on the large concrete plaza surrounding City Hall and the county building in that city. 

The problem with the piece, Jarman explained, is that the huge steel sculpture is the sort of nameless public art seen in all large cities, particularly busy downtown intersections. 

“It’s obvious that the artist had not been familiar with the city of Grand Rapids. You could call it ‘plop art,’” said Jarman, who grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and grew to appreciate the people’s own public art in murals and other farms. 

A more sincere effort by public artists is seen in the example of John Ahearn from the Bronx. Though he was a Bronx resident, and made casts of his close friends and neighbors which he then put up on walls around the neighborhood, the people did not like what he created. 

“The people thought his art was too stereotypical of them. Ahearn was doing something great, but the larger community did not agree with his concept,” Jarman said. 

In contrast, Open Spaces offers people the forum for ideas and final creation and installation of a piece of art upon which they all agree.

Luna, the lead artist for Lemon Grove’s project, has experience in mixed media. He has also done storyboarding and technical design, working for such companies as Boeing Airlines. 

“Basically, what that means is I would do sequence drawings and present them to the board,” Luna said.

Having lived in Lemon Grove all his life, Luna has watched the transition in Lemon Grove’s architecture and landscape. 

“I actually have some ideas of my own in what could be done, but I’m going to restrain from that,” he said. “I’ll be your conceptual designer. It’s all up to you.”

The Open Spaces program will take place over the next two years with focus groups and workshops. The residents will first determine problems, needs, and wants of the community. They will also decide on the content, medium and location of the art project. 

“We have no idea what the project will be, or where it will end up on public or private property,” Esquivias said. 

She said the budget for the project was $30K, provided by the James Irvine Foundation. Another $5K is set aside for the ribbon-cutting celebration. The results will depend on who shows up at the meetings.

“So please tell your neighbors to be here. That means everyone from youth to elders to local business owners,” Esquivias said. 

The floor was opened to some possibilities for the location of a project. Several people mentioned the new two-mile walk and the new dog park.   

Several other people along with Dona Lynn Clabby said they thought of the heart of the city as right in Civic Center Park. 

“The trolley runs by and people look out the windows around all that is going on. I think how busy this part of Lemon Grove was even before it was incorporated as a city,” Clabby said. 

Now all the busyness is down at over on Massachusetts, Clabby said. 

“But it is just jammed with everything. This place, this park is more restful, open and it has the view,” she said.

The next meeting is set for July 29 at 6 p.m. at the Lemon Grove Library. 

“Bring your children because there will be a volunteer with the project doing childcare. And we always have food at our meetings,” Esquivias said.

For more information about the Open Spaces Program, go to www.sdmart.org/open-spaces-0.

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