Thanks also to the partners and sponsors for their contributions, including Ruibal’s for the festive plants and the many others for donated food and prizes!
Sunday, October 21st was our first ever chance to test the idea of bringing public art to the streets in the form of sidewalk chalk. It was an idea that was born out of understanding city code 43-22, which says “You may not deface city sidewalks by placing any marks or signs by stencils or any other means.” The code however risk aversive to negativity and vandalism, also prevents creative forms of artistic expression and prevents a kid from drawing a hopscotch on the ground at a park. What?!? Yeah, that’s what we said…
The morning of, we met at Main St. Gardens and set up a chalkboard at the entrance to the park around 10:30am. We were met by some of our friends with Architecture for Humanity and the Dallas Morning News showed up to cover the story.
Prior to the event we were notified by Downtown Dallas Inc, a non-profit organization that maintains most of the parks downtown, that chalking would stain the imported Indian stone that made up the foyer entrance and to please deter people from chalking at the park. Setting up a temporary chalkboard on a stone at the park was our solution. We set it up, asked people not to chalk at Main Street Garden, and wrote locations where we could meet them to chalk around town without being hassled by security. A few people came by and picked up some baggies of chalk and then we dropped off the remaining chalk at four locations around the city, including JQ Engineering parking lot, BuzzBrews in Deep Ellum, Bryan Tower, and “the patio” in the Arts District across from the Meyerson Symphony Center.
After chalking at JQ Engineering and Bryan Tower we met up at the Meyerson. The Meyerson, was the busiest of the Downtown locations, it had the most passersby, was the most visible, had food carts that prompted activity, and the church crowd across the street was letting out after Sunday mass. As we chalked, most people walked by with a slightly confused and slightly interested look. The passersby with kids expressed the most interest. The kids ran up on the patio, grabbed pieces of chalk an immediately knew what to do.
Around 11:15, the Dallas Morning News reporter rolled up to the patio, charged out of her car, and told us that our chalkboards at Main Street Garden had been taken down. Taken Down? Really? REALLY? While we were out beautifying the city, the Downtown Dallas Inc Clean Team came, dismantled them, and took them away – no one knows where they were taken? The DMN reporter had gotten pictures of the Taker-Downers, had gotten their side of the story, and was now asking us what we thought.
This innocuous, joyful-activity of chalking had turned into a lesson about why public spaces and street activity in Dallas is suffering – let’s be clear, in the Central Business District (CBD), which is the area created by the loop of highways, is SUFFERING! Because as soon as a little bit of messiness, life, dynamism, fun, HECK FUN, is introduced into the landscape it is quickly cleaned away, dismantled and hidden away to be forgotten. We’ve been asking ourselves why this is, and have started to uncover a few reasons, primarily: 1-the CBD’s ordinances are literally designing-out the ability for the city to have life, 2-people aren’t accustom to creative, spontaneous endeavors, unless there’s some big event that says it’s okay.
After the Meyerson, we stopped at the final location BuzzBrews in the Deep Ellum neighborhood. The sidewalks, the street, the curbs, the bike racks, the signs, you name it were decorated with sidewalk chalk. Deep Ellum, known for it’s artistic and music flavor, totally embraced Chalk-tober Fest. And the same cleaning and security crews that exist in the CBD to erase the messiness have no jurisdiction in Deep Ellum, as a matter of fact, a security presence in Deep Ellum would definitely get run out of town.
Though the distance between Main Street Garden and Buzzbrews is a measly 0.8mi, there is a monumental distance of understanding when it comes to allowing the creative culture to happen – heck, promoting it, cultivating it, embracing it, celebrating it! The proof is in the chalk, and was apparent in the range of chalk art that emerged everything from the Buddha on a lotus flower, to a hopscotch with symbols instead of numbers, a waffle, a drawing of Leonard Nimoy with the saying “live long and prosper,” a sweet game of Tetris, peace symbols, greetings of joy, the BuzzBrews logo – it was a cornucopia of inspired chalk riches.
We decided to leave the chalk out in our locations around town, and came back to check on them later that night. JQ Eng and Bryan Tower chalk was gone, as in somebody took it, and there were a few more scribble at the Meyerson “so-and-so loves so-and-so” and so on.
The first Chalk-tober Fest was a success! We’ve learned which locations work best and why, and have started scheming of ways to re-design the ones that didn’t work as well. We’ve found allies in business and organizations around the city who were open to chalking on their property. We’ve connected with people that we’ve never met before and created sidewalk chalk awesomeness. It is part of an ongoing conversation about the role of public art in Dallas, how to use public spaces and our city, and is fighting to promote a culture of creativity and life in the CBD. As we move forward, we envision a day where everybody will be able to walk up to a pile of sidewalk chalk without question and know what to do with it the way kids do.
RE-THINKING SHADE 2
Re-thinking Shade 1 was about building shade. Re-thinking Shade 2 explored using the natural shade, the trees, on the plaza. Combined with the funky, jazz sounds of the Inner City All-Stars and the delicious food truck food of the Butcher’s Son and Belgian Waffle Co it was definitely a Living Plaza to savor and a great way to close out the season.
Video of the Days events
THE END OF SEASON 2
Season 2 of Living Plaza has officially come to an end. Since LP started back in April of 2011, it has become a common occurrence at the City Hall Plaza, from the spring through the summer City Hallers could expect a monthly picnic-type event to enjoy their lunch and get out of the office one Wednesday a month.
Initially started as a collaboration between Team Better Block, CityDesign Studio and other departments at City Hall, the Dallas Living Plaza project has grown into a community organization Friends of Living Plaza and spawned Revolutionary Pants an urban laboratory, nonprofit for creating communities and to re-image the human habitat. Living Plaza has evolved into a community-based place-making project that teaches, explores, and demonstrates how people can program the City Hall plaza and other public spaces around town.
Though season 2 has wrapped, FLP is continuing to keep the conversation alive by branching out to the entire city. In October, we’re hosting an event called Chalk-tober Fest to promote creativity and inspire the use of chalk as a fun, temporary medium. In November, we’re hosting Busking Day, to help spark a street-performing culture in the city.
We’ve already starting thinking about the next season of Living Plaza, which will happen again from April-Sep. We’re planning to shift Living Plaza to nights and weekends and to involve more of the Downtown community. We also want to encourage more community-led events on the plaza as well as bring back one of the most iconic events that ever happened on the plaza, Beach Day. If you’re interesting in helping continue the movement, feel free to contact us, we always love new ideas and inspiring each other to re-think our public spaces and improve our city.