(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 395: Asphalt Art
This week we’re joined by David Andersson, part of the Art and Culture team at Bloomberg Associates. David chats about the implementation and safety characteristics of asphalt art, how communities work on these projects, and the character of public art.
Below is a full unedited transcript of the show:
Jeff Wood (1m 23s):
David Andersson, welcome to the talking headways podcast.
David Andersson (1m 49s):
Thanks so much for having me.
Jeff Wood (1m 50s):
Well, thanks for being here before you get started. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
David Andersson (1m 54s):
Well, I love cities and I love art, which I guess is the reason I’m here today. I grew up in New York city. I am a visual artist, so mostly a painter, but I also dabble in some other media. And in my day job, I work with city governments to help them better support their cultural sectors and help bring great cultural experiences across all communities in their cities. So I do that through Bloomberg associates, which is the pro bono municipal consulting wing of Bloomberg philanthropies, Mike Bloomberg’s charitable foundation and Bloomberg associates. We work with our client cities across a host of disciplines, transportation, sustainability, urban planning, and I’m on the arts and culture team.
David Andersson (2m 40s):
And mostly when we engage with the city, I’m working with their arts agency. If they have one on whatever issues are challenging them at the moment, often that’s around equitable grant making or data collection and evaluation, which is a big thing in the arts, often like oil and water, and of course, public art and art in the public realm. So one of our spinoff projects that I manage with our transportation team is the asphalt art initiative, which I absolutely love and is a program that helps cities use art on transportation infrastructure to improve street safety, revitalized public space, and engage their communities in the process of shaping their streets.
David Andersson (3m 21s):
It’s a wonderful program. I’m excited to talk about it more because it, it really shows off what art can do in cities.
Jeff Wood (3m 28s):
We’ll get there in a second. I wanna ask you about your personal experience in art and background. How did you get started being an artist? I mean like, what was the first time you ever thought, like, this is what I wanna do. This is who I wanna be
David Andersson (3m 39s):
Well, so growing up, I was more of a theater kid. Really. I did a lot of performance musicals, you know, stuff like that. And I really painted as a hobby, something that I liked to do at the end of the day and over time. And after I graduated college, I started getting more and more invested in producing paintings. And I would say the moment that it changed for me is when I really started doing portraiture, I focused on paintings of people and it meant that I had to sit down and really get to know someone, get to know their face and know what I was trying to show about them in a visual way.
David Andersson (4m 20s):
And it meant that I cared more about my art. It meant that I spent more time on my paintings. And so it just became a bigger part of my life. That was probably about a decade ago. And so throughout my career, I’ve taken some time off to focus. Full-time on painting right now. It’s, it’s on the side, but still a big part of my life.
Jeff Wood (4m 41s):
That seems like something that can be, you know, connected to the rest of your work as well, sitting down thinking through things, examining the subject that you’re trying to help, you know, portray, I’m wondering, you know, how that kind of experience gets into your work.
David Andersson (4m 55s):
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there are certain moments where I get more involved in one of our projects and get to work directly with artists that make me feel like it can be part of the creative process through my, my day to day work as well. And that there’s something I think, where having been an artist, having spent time doing it full time, you know, trying to get my artwork shown in galleries, sell things. It gives me an insight into what artists in cities are trying to do. And so I, I can be a little bit more of an advocate when we’re talking to government officials who aren’t really working with artists day to day and trying to make the circular peg of art fit into the square hole or whatever.
Jeff Wood (5m 39s):
What is their response then? Like what is the public officials response to art generally when you approach them with these types of projects or when you try to bring art into other types of infrastructure or general city projects,
David Andersson (5m 51s):
It depends on where they’re coming from. But one of the strategies that we often tell our clients and, and, you know, the, the artists and arts workers, creative professionals who are trying to advocate for the arts and city government is to show how arts and culture can meet other civic priorities. So if a mayor has a priority of economic development or growth of tourism or neighborhood investment or public health or education, find out how you can make the case that arts and culture supports those, cuz it does arts and culture weaves throughout different city sectors and has really tangible impacts across them.
David Andersson (6m 36s):
Often they’re hard to quantify, but there are ways of telling the story, using data, using narrative, using anecdotes, where you can show that arts and culture, isn’t this nice to have thing on the side, but it actually can be something you weave into your civic priorities and your civic projects.
Jeff Wood (6m 57s):
Is it more often that the officials understand what you’re trying to do or they’re start out skeptical?
David Andersson (7m 4s):
It depends, you know, we’re working in the city of Newark, New Jersey right now. And mayor Baraka is a me Baraka’s son, the famed poet. And he himself is a spoken word artist. So he gets it, it’s like top of his priority list, but then there are other officials who really aren’t in the business of the arts. They might think of art as, you know, something you put on a wall in a museum and that’s over there. And what I’m focused on is making sure there aren’t potholes on the street or making sure that, you know, people can get from point a to point B are housed. And all of that is very important, but it does depend where they’re coming from.
David Andersson (7m 45s):
I, you know, I would say most people who are working in city government and most officials are not thinking of art as one of their top priorities or one of their top strategies for meeting their priorities. And I’m not trying to claim that arts and culture is like the golden answer for every single thing. But it’s something that leads to a more vibrant city when artists are brought to the table. And when culture is part of civic decision making,
Jeff Wood (8m 13s):
I think that’s something that’s really important in terms of thinking about all the silos that we are in. Pretty often when we talk about housing, when we talk about transportation and public health, those types of things, all of these things come together to make a more, like you said, vibrant society. And I think sometimes we forget that when we’re talking about a transportation project or when we’re talking about a housing project, et cetera. And so I think, you know, it’s hard for folks who aren’t thinking outside the box about the larger kind of culture generally, to focus on things that they don’t think are part of their silo because of that. And I appreciate that there’s something about bringing everything together into a larger kind of community and thinking about it as a whole, rather that imparts.
David Andersson (8m 51s):
Yeah, absolutely. You know, there was the study that I was a part of back in 2014 when I worked for the city of new York’s department of cultural affairs, it was operated by the university of Pennsylvania, their social impact of the arts program. And they are not arts researchers. They are researchers of cities and civic impacts and social wellbeing, but they have realized that the arts have these, these really tangible impacts. And so they conducted this huge, huge study of New York city and looked at low income neighborhoods that had a lot of arts assets. So that’s cultural institutions, artists living there as reported by the census.
David Andersson (9m 31s):
And they compared those neighborhoods to other low income neighborhoods that had fewer arts assets. And they found that there were really major differences in terms of educational success in terms of crime rates, in terms of obesity rates, a across all different sectors, the neighborhoods that were quite similar in all other categories, but had more arts assets were doing better across different threads. And that study has really stuck with me in terms of the case, making for arts and culture and, and, and just feeling justified that we’re doing something right here, that arts and culture, isn’t just making people a little happier or giving them something fun to do on the weekends.
David Andersson (10m 20s):
It’s actually critical to having a thriving and healthy city.
Jeff Wood (10m 23s):
When’s the first time you engage with infrastructure
David Andersson (10m 25s):
Art, infrastructure art, but we’re calling asphalt art. So I worked for the department of cultural affairs. I was primarily working on their grant, making their primary grant program supported over 900 organizations in the city of New York and a number of the organizations that we supported were oriented around public art and did a lot of public art projects. Our agency also partnered with the department of transportation on asphalt art projects around the city of New York. We’re calling them asphalt art because the type of project that is that marries the arts and transportation and requires artists to be in the room and engineers to be in the room, working together, felt like it warranted a special name.
David Andersson (11m 16s):
And so I didn’t work on that directly back in my New York city days, but coming to Bloomberg associates, the former transportation commissioner under mayor Bloomberg Jeanette, so con and the former culture commissioner, Kate Levin were at a table with me and a couple other colleagues. And we were sorting through what we could do to continue the great work that had happened in New York under mayor Bloomberg. So we started thinking about what an asphalt art initiative might look like. The first thing that we did was we published an asphalt art guide, which had case studies and tips and tricks for cities for how you could do this yourself.
David Andersson (11m 56s):
But then we also created a grant program to fund demonstration projects and really get in the weeds with cities as they’re doing this so that we could learn what works in certain places, what doesn’t work, what are the hiccups, what are the successes and how to best do these projects so that we can become better advocates and helpers to more cities to, to do this kind of work. So it kind of stemmed from there has grown tremendously, and I’ve been happy to tag along for the ride.
Jeff Wood (12m 29s):
There’s several different infrastructures. You can target with asphalt art. And it’s interesting to read in, in the guide, the three different types. Can you talk more in detail about the specific targets of your program?
David Andersson (12m 39s):
Yeah. So asphalt art can take many forms. It is necessarily visual art interventions on transportation infrastructure, but that could be a mural in the center of the, an intersection that can be crosswalk art that can be art on pedestrian areas like on the sidewalks or in a pedestrian Plaza or on vertical infrastructure, which could be a highway underpass or traffic, utility boxes. And the like, and it’s usually temporary. It’s usually an artist coming in with paint and painting something that will is intended to last six months or a year or three years or something of the like, and as far as infrastructure projects go, it’s not that expensive when, you know, it’s the cost of paint.
David Andersson (13m 30s):
It’s an artist fee. It’s whatever traffic control measures you need to implement, but you’re not pouring concrete. You’re not creating a new curb. And that allows cities to really experiment and test what works and what doesn’t. So that’s really the general range that we’re working in, but we’ve seen a lot of different kinds of things come through and come across our path.
Jeff Wood (13m 52s):
What’s the most fun thing that’s come through
David Andersson (13m 55s):
The most fun. Yeah. That’s, that’s hard to highlight, but I’ll talk about one, one project that I absolutely love in Reno, Nevada, that I got to check out in person, cuz a lot of this has happened during COVID. So I haven’t gotten to visit them all, but this was a giant concrete cap that was put over a sunken rail bed right in the heart of downtown Reno. So originally there had been an overground train. It was dropped below ground. They put this concrete cap over it. And then there was this giant empty space that nobody was using. And it was baking in the sun and people were walking across and it was kind of miserable.
David Andersson (14m 36s):
So that was done like 15 years ago, this recession hit, nothing was done with it. Even though there were hopes and dreams. And finally they decided to commission a huge mural. It was 18,000 square feet that artist, Brad Carney flew out from Philadelphia to complete. And he brought in community members to help pick what types of imagery would be included in the mural. He brought out volunteers to help paint with him over the course of a couple weeks. And it’s this wonderful playful, enormous space. That’s now an event Plaza. They’ve also planted some trees for shade. They bring out food trucks, they have yoga classes.
David Andersson (15m 17s):
And someone sent me a video of roller skaters, like skating along all the different lines of the artwork. And it’s just such a big, powerful, wow moment when you come into Reno, it’s right next to the biggest little city sign in the heart of Reno. So I love it. That one is, it’s just a really fun one.
Jeff Wood (15m 36s):
You mentioned all the folks artists brought in the community members and stuff. Is there a public input process? Is there a way to kind of connect with the community cuz you can’t just like helicopter in and start drawing something. It has to be something that comes from the locals.
David Andersson (15m 48s):
Absolutely. These projects really are most successful when community members are engaged from the get go, we’ve seen community members be involved in all sorts of different ways. You know, sometimes it’s just a survey where community members are voting on which design they like best or which artists to choose. Sometimes it’s bringing community members out to help paint, pick up a paint brush and actually, you know, put paint on the ground, which is a really special thing that you don’t get a chance to do that. Often several of our projects have gone a step further and brought community members to be a part of every element of the design process. And one great example in Cincinnati, they held a chalk inspiration day where community members came out and did chalk drawings on the ground.
David Andersson (16m 36s):
The artist took pictures of them all and then incorporated some of the figures and shapes into her design. In another project in Pittsburgh, they were doing a geometric redesign of a confusing intersection to make it safer in a neighborhood that had a very strong neighborhood community group and the community group members held design workshops where each member had a map of the intersection. And in going through how they use the intersection, when they’re walking, when they’re biking, when they’re driving, they started drawing out different ways that they thought the intersect section should be shaped so that it could be safer for all those multiple uses. And ultimately the engineers that did the final design based it on the community designs that were turned over to them.
David Andersson (17m 23s):
And then the last one that I’ll share that is probably my favorite of our, our community. Examples is in Chattanooga and we funded a large asphalt art mural in front of a new grocery store in a neighborhood that was historically a food desert and the team alongside the mural created these individual teams of community members each led by an artist and they were each given $3,000 to do some kind of complimentary intervention to the asphalt art mural. It was called planning by doing workshops, love that name. And so community members picked what they wanted, what they wanted to see alongside this new, great piece of art.
David Andersson (18m 6s):
And so one group created this colorful bench. Another group got those big industrial spools and turned them on their sides and painted them and turned them into tables. Another group made stencils and painted a safe route to, and from a nearby elementary school so that school kids could come and see the art and spend time in the new space that was created. And it was just this wonderful way of both giving community members the opportunity, but also the tools and resources to create stuff that they wanted to see and create a new public space that was literally created by the community is really just, there have been so many different examples of community engagement and it is integral to these kinds of projects for them to be successful.
Jeff Wood (18m 52s):
It’s interesting to hear about the different materials. There’s, there’s chalk, there’s paint, there’s all kinds of ways that you can improve a space. You had mentioned the old schools. I’m curious how long are the interventions and the art projects meant to last, are they permanent? And what’s the maintenance like on them as well, because it seems like some of the paint might get scratched off after a certain amount of time. If it’s a well used space. I’m curious about that. The maintenance, the long lasting effects of these places.
David Andersson (19m 16s):
Yeah, absolutely. It differs from project to project and what the goals are. So, you know, for one project where they’re trying to drive more attention to a downtown district like we had in Saginaw, Michigan, they painted three intersection murals along a major street, but the street was pretty heavily trafficked. So the murals started to fade away as traffic came over them and they went in and refreshed them a little bit, but then ultimately the murals faded away and were, were removed because they were intended to be a temporary piece. Other murals, if they’re on a street that has less traffic or they’re in a pedestrianized area, many of our projects, the, the artwork is painted in the curb extension.
David Andersson (20m 4s):
So it’s really only used by pedestrians that can last for a couple years. And once it kind of faded away or served its usable life, then it’s up to the city to decide, do you power wash it away? Do you get people out to refresh it and repair it? Or do you commission a new artist to come in and put in a new design? And it, it just depends on what the goals of the space are. And some of the projects really lead to permanent interventions. So it’s you install a curb extension, that’s just paint and those plastic flexible Ballards and you try that out for a year.
David Andersson (20m 45s):
And when you see that it works, maybe you do some metrics collection and find out that it’s actually safer for the people walking across the street. Then you can pour concrete and extend the curve and create a permanent Plaza.
Jeff Wood (20m 58s):
Well, that’s another thing is the success rate of safety for these projects, especially when you’re doing bulb outs, especially when you’re doing specific pedestrian safety items, what’s been the findings on how safe these new interventions are when they’re installed.
David Andersson (21m 11s):
So we’ve been really pleased with the findings. We’ve tracked individual projects to see their success rates in meeting their safety goals. But we also realize that there’s not much research out there on the safety impacts of asphalt art. And so we commissioned a study last year conducted by Sam Schwartz consulting an engineering firm to take a look at a number of asphalt art sites across the country. And there were two parts of the study. The first part looked at crash rates. So it studied 17 different sites that had a few years of crash data before and after the art was installed. And those were all interventions that were in the roadway.
David Andersson (21m 52s):
So like crosswalks intersection murals, and maybe had some additional geometric redesigns or, you know, curb extensions. But the core of the projects was art in the street. And they found that overall the rate of crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists went down by 50% after the art was installed. So that number was so huge to us. It really showed that in these projects, at least the art was having a big impact in the safety of the most vulnerable users of the road. But then the second half of the study was looking, not just at crash rates because you know, that’s one metric that is of course very important, but really was focusing in on driver behavior.
David Andersson (22m 38s):
And so we took five projects that were installing during the study period last year, five of our projects. And we got video footage from before and after the art was installed and the Sam Schwartz team analyzed the footage and coded every single driver in pedestrian interaction to see, you know, how successful it was or how close to a conflict there was, whether drivers were yielding to pedestrians, things like that. And they found that the percentage of drivers yielding to pedestrians who had the right of way increased by 27%. And so regardless of crashes, because this was a very small study period, drivers were behaving differently in this, in these spaces that now had artwork there.
David Andersson (23m 28s):
You know, there are a lot of theories behind what it’s doing, you know, what psychologically the artwork is doing to drivers. And it’s hard to really pinpoint it. But you know, at the core of it, it seems like having artwork on the ground signals to drivers that the streets are not just for cars, they’re for pedestrians too. They’re for people who are walking, people who are biking. And so when there’s art there, you’re like, oh, people are around here. People care on this road. I shouldn’t just barrel through the road as if it’s a deserted wasteland or on a highway. I should be more cautious. That’s kind of shown out in the research that we’ve done and in the individual projects that we’ve been studying.
Jeff Wood (24m 12s):
Yeah. And a lot of the projects seem to be a response to kind of bad engineering overall. Right? I mean, yes, bad engineering of our roads. Generally. I feel like if we had better street design focused on more safety, I’m wondering if many of these projects would be necessary. I mean, obviously they, we love them and they, we think they’re great, but would they be necessary if we actually had good street design to start out with,
David Andersson (24m 31s):
I know what a problem to have that you wanna like work yourself out of existence kind of. Yeah, no, I, I agree. I think that this is finding a challenge that is in our existing public realm that we can address with art and art has a special ability to address it more creatively and you know, potentially more, I impactfully for a temporary period of time. And it’s great for community education. It’s great for getting people out to participate and think about their streets differently and understand what makes a safe street and, and what can you do as a neighborhood resident to help advocate for your streets to be safer. So all of those are, are great side benefits, but yes, at the core of it, we’re finding challenging problematic streets and, and trying to fix them.
David Andersson (25m 21s):
So if we had better streets, then we wouldn’t need to do the fix.
Jeff Wood (25m 25s):
Have you had any interactions with like public officials or folks that were a little bit skeptical before, but then when you installed the intervention, they really changed their mind.
David Andersson (25m 34s):
Yes, certainly. I mean, I would say more often it’s officials who hadn’t really thought about this and had this wouldn’t have ever crossed their mind as to be a solution. Sometimes we have champions within a department of transportation or public works who get this kind of tactical urbanism that gives the tools to community to be creative about, about their streets. And that that’s great. And, and so they’re pushing for this project, but often the projects come from the community and they have to do some convincing of the public officials that this kind of thing is beneficial and, and is actually not only baseline safe, but can make streets safer.
David Andersson (26m 22s):
I think that having other examples, like our asphalt art guide and great visuals, you can point to and say, look, this is beautiful. And also impactful is very useful in convincing people, but also now hopefully the numbers from our safety study and from some of the other research that’s bubbling up, you know, hopefully that will help convince folks who aren’t confident about it going in.
Jeff Wood (26m 46s):
You’ve done a lot of these projects. Is there anything that’s surprised you from the implementation?
David Andersson (26m 52s):
Yeah. I mean, there are a lot of things that I hadn’t thought about going into this. I mean, there are so many elements that are required to get right when you’re painting something on the street, you know, weather is a huge factor. You can’t paint on a wet road, you’re not painting well, it’s raining, it’s asking volunteers to come out and paint on a hundred degree day is very cruel. So, you know, those type of things, certainly we’ve also had issues of supply chain recently where paint hasn’t showed up in time. There’s this wonderful. I had a great conversation with someone in Fairbanks, Alaska. So we, we funded two projects in Alaska and the Fairbanks project installed earlier this summer and they had left over paint.
David Andersson (27m 38s):
And then our project in Kodiak, Alaska is installing in like a week, I think yet. And they didn’t get the shipment of paint from, or one of their shipments of paint from the mainland in time. And so Fairbank sent down their extra paint and like, they just happened to have some of the right colors that were needed. And so they’re saving the day for Kodiak, but you know, that kind of thing, making sure you have storage for all the paint, if you purchase the paint two months in advance and you have nowhere to put it, you know, you have to figure that out. All of that can be complicated. I think one of the other things that was a big learning lesson was that we rolled this program out right at the beginning of COVID when we, we first announced the program was 2019, everything was wonderful.
David Andersson (28m 25s):
And then we got applications and as we were reviewing them, that’s when COVID hit. And we decided to go forward with the program. We announced our first round of grantees in June, 2020, because these projects are outdoors. And because we kept hearing from cities that they needed something like this, they needed something positive that could be done safely, but also, you know, people were spending all this time outside, like making the out your, your public realm more beautiful and, and vibrant and welcoming was even more important at that time. But there were challenges there too. You know, how, how do you do community engagement and transition communities who are used to meeting in person in the town hall or whatever to zoom meetings, how do you get people out and paint next to each other safely?
David Andersson (29m 15s):
You know, at the time there was a big focus on, even if we’re outdoors, you know, you have to be six feet away from each other and in masks. And some of the designs were changed because of that. So that you could have people working on, you know, one square or one section of the design and still be six feet apart from each other. And when one project in Norfolk, Virginia, it was thought of as a place that could become a stage or, or a place where, where you could dance. And so the artist spaced out these little flower, symbols, at least six feet apart so that people could stand on them and know that they weren’t near each other, if they were gonna be participating in, in the dance class.
David Andersson (29m 56s):
So like that kind of stuff, I would never have thought of going into this, but the fact that you’re bringing artists to the table to think creatively and, and figure this out, it meant that we ended up with really meaningful projects that were still pretty successful in light of it all.
Jeff Wood (30m 11s):
Does city bureaucracy ever get in the way, are there times when different departments have different ideas about what they wanna do, or is there any type of miscommunications that happen between cuz sometimes, you know, from doing this, but also I imagine from just paying attention to any road projects that have been happening, you know, you have to talk to the city engineer and you have to talk to the transportation department and you have to talk to planning and you have to, you know, permits for this and that. Is there any bureaucracy that has kind of come and, and caused problems for any of these projects?
David Andersson (30m 38s):
Yeah. There have been a few projects where there was unscheduled road worker utility work that the, you know, right hand left-handed and talked to each other. And so artwork went down or a base coat went down and then a piece had to get dug back up. Oh no, they had to go back and paint over it. But I mean, the lucky thing is that these are painted projects. They usually don’t take months to complete. And so, you know, at least in the case of the projects where this did happen in our pool, they were able to fix it pretty easily and seamlessly, but it is, you know, it is hard. Sometimes these projects are led by the city’s engineering department or transportation department, but often they’re not.
David Andersson (31m 24s):
And so you really need to make sure that you have the right folks on board and fully committed to the project in order for it to move forward. That’s something in our application process, we make sure that the agency with jurisdiction over the city streets is a member, an active member of the project team, you know, has someone that they’ve some staff member that they’ve identified who is going to be joining the calls and looping in everybody who needs to get looped in. But of course, things called through the cracks all the time.
Jeff Wood (31m 52s):
Now what about these gorilla movements? The folks that want to go out there and do it on their own without getting any permission?
David Andersson (31m 58s):
Yeah. I mean, the thing is that I am supportive of like art everywhere when it comes to, to art on the streets though, you are dealing with safety issues. And so, you know, there are some, some things that you wanna make sure you’re not obscuring and that you, you are considering the safety for everyone and having it like an engineer involved, you can say, this is like actually going to totally confuse people or whatever that’s helpful to have. But yeah, I don’t know, say like if you have a pedestrian Plaza and, and you got some paint go for it.
Jeff Wood (32m 31s):
I guess I’ve seen a couple of movements in places like Los Angeles where, you know, I guess the cities aren’t that responsive to them when they want a crosswalk or something like that. And it’s not obscuring like a big mural would be, they’re just doing a crosswalk. So it’s like a simple project, but the city then goes in and rips it all up. Even if it was something that was done to the, the transportation code that would’ve done by city officials anyway. So, you know, those types of things are interesting to watch as well.
David Andersson (32m 53s):
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, and, and that’s the thing I, I think also if there is more of an open stream of communication between the city and communities for what they want and what is needed, you know, hopefully some of those desires would get passed along and actually be heard in Baltimore. The city’s department of transportation has a creative place making program where communities can apply for a specific intervention that they wanna do. You know, and it’s, it’s more along the lines of asphalt art, but sometimes it’s really just adding crosswalks or adding bump outs in an area. So they, they receive these applications all the time and they look through it and they’re there to actually work with the community to make sure that they can do something cool and test something out.
David Andersson (33m 42s):
But that it’s following city code and the city isn’t gonna go in then in a couple months and just tear it out.
Jeff Wood (33m 48s):
So outside of asphalt art, what other projects are you all working on that might be of interest?
David Andersson (33m 53s):
Yeah, so we have done a number of public art projects that have been pretty, pretty compelling in our work right now. So I mentioned Newark New Jersey earlier, and there’s a wonderful project there that has a beautiful community engagement through line through it. So back in June of 2020 amidst calls for racial justice, a lot of monuments were being taken down across the country. And the city of Newark took down a monument, a statue to Christopher Columbus that was in a prominent downtown park. And they donated the statue to a local church who had been part of the commissioning process for it back in the day.
David Andersson (34m 33s):
And there was then this empty pedestal and an opportunity for commissioning something new right now, there are a lot of empty pedestals around the country and there, there haven’t been replacements that have been made for a lot of them. Sometimes there’s a temporary commissioning process. Sometimes artists are coming in impromptu and putting their artwork on the space, but in Newark they just happen to have done this public art installation the year prior called a call to piece where they commissioned four artists to create a temporary installation envisioning what a new monument in Newark could look like. And as part of that, they had a community engagement process where they had a booth out on the park Plaza and they invited community members to come in and, you know, brainstorm, write some ideas down, draw some ideas, have a conversation, share what they thought would be a timely monument for Newark.
David Andersson (35m 31s):
And one of the ideas that had come out of that work was something honoring Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, which passed through New Jersey and had at least one safe house in Newark. And there’s nothing publicly memorializing that in the city at the moment. And so the mayor realized that this was an opportunity to commission a new permanent piece of public art honoring Harriet Tubman in new Jersey’s role in the underground railroad. And so we came in and, and supported the city in developing a commissioning process for it, developing a community engagement process for it, bringing in, you know, getting community feedback on the designs, designing workshops that commissioned artists, Nina cook, John who’s, New Jersey based artist that she leads.
David Andersson (36m 20s):
And she teaches community members about the history of Harry Tubman and new Jersey’s role in the underground railroad offers the opportunity for them to create tiles in response to what they’re hearing in their own imagery about liberation and what it means to them and record stories that will then be patched together into an audio mosaic of sorts that you can listen to when you visit the monument and just this through line of what it means to create public art at this moment, create something that isn’t just a statue on a pedestal, but can become a community gathering space, an educational space that can be built together with community members throughout has been an amazing experience to be a part of and to see happen in this really powerful and special moment in history.
Jeff Wood (37m 12s):
That’s awesome. When you’re talking about taking down, you know, monuments and the number of pedestals around the country, it makes me think that, you know, there’s a lot of other opportunities obviously for changing or creating some educational opportunities. Like you mentioned, we can’t just put up Godzilla statues, things like that, loss of Raptors or something, you know, something, although maybe someplace silly they could, but it just reminds me actually a number of years ago and, and this is related, but unrelated, but a number of years ago, I think it was adult swim, which is like a cartoon, you know, show on cartoon network or whatever. You know, there was a show called Aqua teen hunger force and Boston. They had hung up a bunch of the Moona nights, which were these like little pixel characters that they had all over.
Jeff Wood (37m 53s):
And then, you know, people started seeing these pixel characters and they thought they were bombs. They started calling the police and like everybody was going crazy. So it might be something where you have to like tell people about it, not be gorilla art on all of the pedestals, but it’s, it just made me think of like sometimes people freak out when they see something that they wouldn’t normally see, which is a good experience, I guess, but also maybe a little bit frightening for some,
David Andersson (38m 17s):
Yeah, that’s true. I mean, I really think I really love public art that kind of thinks about public space as something that isn’t static and something that you can really experiment with. And it’s true. It can go too far. People can misunderstand and certainly having some kind of like public education or public awareness is helpful when you’re plopping a new piece of art into a space. But I, I just, I, I love it when neighborhoods or cities or communities are open to lots of art and lots of creative interventions out in public space because that’s really like the stage where everyone’s coming together and it feels more vibrant when there’s a lot of different stuff going on.
David Andersson (39m 1s):
You know, it’s not just, oh, I need to get from point a to point B or, or I need to go to the target or whatever. You have surprising things too, along your route. And then you can respond differently if you’re engaging differently with your spaces along your day. You know, there’s something beautiful about public space, where there are a lot of different overlapping interests and structures. You know, you have transportation, you have businesses, you have space where people just wanna hang out, you have all this overlapping interests and goals and infrastructure that’s been put at different times.
David Andersson (39m 41s):
And so getting the chance to play with that really can make it so much more than what it is. So I, I think all of this is, you know, leading into a culture of kind of messing with what you think of a public space and what it can do and opening people’s minds to, okay. Maybe there is a Godzilla over there and there’s a historic monument over here that I can learn from. And there’s this cool new Plaza with crazy benches that my kids are gonna climb all over. And all of that is part of the landscape and part of what makes my city special.
Jeff Wood (40m 20s):
Do you worry about commodification? There was a piece. I can’t remember if it was in the new Yorker or in, maybe it was in New York times recently and talking about San Francisco where I am specifically right now. And they were talking about kind of the tech accusation. Like that’s a word I can’t say, but technication or whatever of, of the city. And they were talking about the honey bears that have proliferated around here. And I, you know, and I, I
David Andersson (40m 41s):
Jeff Wood (40m 41s):
Yeah. Yeah. And during the pandemic, obviously they start out in small places and then there was a competition to have Teddy bears in your windows so that the kids could go around and mark them on a map and all that stuff. And which was really cool. But then it’s, I don’t know if it’s gone too far or not, but just the article discussed kind of the commodification or at least the platformization of individual artists of technology. They’re also talking about self-driving cars and how they kind of are very similar. They’re all the same in going around. And so I like your idea of specificity to neighborhoods and the cultural norms of that neighborhood or the cultural aesthetics, but there’s also, you can go overboard and you, and you can maybe, you know, try to make it to where it’s everywhere is kind of a memory of this one thing.
Jeff Wood (41m 23s):
I don’t know if I’m explaining that correctly, but it’s something that just popped into my head.
David Andersson (41m 27s):
No, I, I, I get it. My San Francisco friends hate Bo bears. I was, I was there a couple months ago and I was taking pictures and hate sending them to people. But I mean, the thing is that I don’t specifically hate the honey bears and I don’t know the full context, not living in San Francisco. And, you know, in general, my baseline is I support more art out in public. And so I don’t, I don’t wanna tell one artist that, you know, his or her work shouldn’t be shown in someone else’s window or all over a city. But I do think that, you know, opening the doors and, and making it less special, like it shouldn’t just be the honey bears that we’re hearing about or seeing in everybody’s window, it should be more of a culture, or just like an embracing of different artists and different imagery to all be put together to make up a neighborhood character.
David Andersson (42m 22s):
And, and, you know, that’s hard, you know, if something resonates with a lot of people then great that resonates and you, you’re not gonna take that back or change it. But I don’t know. Maybe it’s like a little bit to capitalists, but it’s like, sure. I mean, there is this ecosystem of artwork and there are people who are capitalizing on it and who are commodifying it in a way that, you know, I personally wouldn’t do, or wouldn’t want to see with my artwork or with artwork of artists are respect, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that other artists aren’t doing something inauthentic. Like, I don’t think it is messing with the general art world or ethos of design in cities and in public spaces.
Jeff Wood (43m 1s):
I think also just allows you to have the conversation, right? He’s like, oh, I’ve seen that. Yes. And then now I can have a conversation about public art, about private art, et cetera. So if it starts a conversation, maybe it’s not all all bad.
David Andersson (43m 11s):
And maybe if you hate the honey bears enough, you’ll be inspired to go out and make something different that you put in your window.
Jeff Wood (43m 17s):
Exactly. Exactly. Well, there’s two documents that folks can get in terms of the asphalt art. There’s the safety study, there’s the art guide, where can folks find those or actually all of the work that you all are doing? Where can folks find the works that you’re doing online?
David Andersson (43m 29s):
So our website for the asphalt art initiative is asphalt art.bloomberg.org. We have a lot of great resources on there that we’re expanding every day, a lot of great case studies and videos of some of our projects and other projects that we’ve come across. And it’s been a, a, a really fun place to put all of this great visual material that we’ve been putting together. We have these great little before and after sliders. So you can transform an intersection yourself. And then to hear more about the work of Bloomberg associates, which is the consulting wing of Bloomberg philanthropies, you can go to associates.bloomberg.org, and there are case studies and information about some of our projects in Newark and Kansas city and Houston and around the country and some internationally as well.
Jeff Wood (44m 16s):
Is there a way for folks to get in touch with you either through social media or online or email, if you want to be found that is,
David Andersson (44m 22s):
Yeah, absolutely. So I would say the best is probably through email it’s D Anderson and that’s with two SS, a N D E R S S O N, [email protected].
Jeff Wood (44m 33s):
Awesome. Well, David, thanks for joining us. We really appreciate your time.
David Andersson (44m 36s):
Absolutely. Thanks so much, Jeff. This has been great.