Carnatic Garden Concerts

July 2009
1. Describe your current work as an artist. Please elaborate on any significant artistic activities, awards or accomplishments, as well as any relevant community involvement or regional leadership in the arts. (Max 600 words)

My current work, the Mission Greenbelt Project is building an urban earth artwork of public sidewalk gardens in San Francisco’s Mission District. Each Mission Greenbelt garden is designed with urban ecology in mind: native and other drought-tolerant plants attract urban birds, butterflies and bees. Permeable garden soil replaces sidewalk concrete and absorbs rainwater, relieving the city’s overburdened water and sewage treatment system, which regularly overflows, spilling raw sewage into the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The Mission Greenbelt route will eventually connect the parks, open spaces and existing sidewalk gardens in the Mission District between Dolores Park (19th & Dolores) and Franklin Square Park (16th & Bryant).
In January 2009, Mission Greenbelt and the Sangati Center teamed up to create a sidewalk garden of native plants on the corner of 22nd and Shotwell Streets. Planted according to a landscape design called ‘Garden for the Birds’, the garden features drought-tolerant plants with flowers, seeds, berries and insects that attract birds.

The Mission Greenbelt Project with support from the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery in fall 2007 mounted a public awareness campaign about San Francisco’s ecology and the city’s Sidewalk Landscaping Permit process. ‘Mission Greenbelt Campaign Headquarters’ included multimedia artworks in the gallery; a temporary native plant demonstration garden was installed in the gallery’s front lawn. There were also performances, guest lecturers, meetings and regularly scheduled tours of the selected Mission Greenbelt route.

Since moving to San Francisco in 2002, I have made participatory artworks that draw public attention to nature through conceptual and performance art projects. In 2004, I invited friends and passersby to join me to hold vigil from sunrise until sunset. This project, ‘I STAND’ was held at 5th and Market Streets in downtown San Francisco. In 2005, I organized ‘ART on BART: an Artist-guided tour of the Bay Area Urban Ecosystem’. I invited artists to create pieces to be performed, read aloud and/or created as we toured the entire BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system. In 2006, I organized another daylong artwork: the ‘Angel Island Art & Ecology Festival’. For this, I invited dancers, botanical illustrators, island docents, multimedia artists, photographers and others to participate in a tour of performances that took place at locations around the perimeter of Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.

2. Describe the project for which you are seeking funding. Be as specific as possible by identifying the collaborators, resources and timeline required to implement your proposed project. Attach bios for key project collaborators below, as applicable. (Max 1200 words)

I am seeking funding for the Mission Greenbelt Project’s contribution to ‘Carnatic Urban Garden Concerts’, a series of four outdoor concerts produced concurrently with the creation of new Mission Greenbelt sidewalk gardens. This is a collaborative project between Gautam Tejas Ganeshan of Sangati Center, San Francisco’s Indian Classical Music Art House, Anantha R. Krishnan, accomplished mridangam drummer and myself with the Mission Greenbelt Project.
Our project ‘Carnatic Urban Garden Concerts’, seeks to revive the South Indian classical Carnatic musical tradition with its origins in the16th century and encourage the establishment of present day Mission Greenbelt sidewalk gardens. Carnatic music incorporates simple instruments and song into a succession of increasingly complex movements, each with nested variations. Carnatic music was often improvised on-site in response to social issues, as a celebration or story of place or to play to the divine. The ‘Carnatic Urban Garden Concerts’ will create a similar kind of complex divinity through a combination of Anantha’s contemporary Carnatic compositions, Sangati Center’s vision and the Mission Greenbelt Project’s facilitation of garden building and ongoing care.

Gautam has sought funding for this project from the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Creative Work Fund. We plan to carry out this project in the fall of 2010. The funds will be used promote the ‘Carnatic Urban Garden Concerts’, to pay Anantha’s artist fee, to subsidize the costs of building new sidewalk gardens and to pay for city street closure and sidewalk landscaping permits.

If this proposal is funded, I will use $5,000 as my artist’s fee to focus on designing new gardens and generating new artwork related to the gardens. In the past I have made collages on board, multimedia gallery installations, street posters and performance artworks related to the Mission Greenbelt Project. The remaining $5,000 will be used to subsidize costs associated with building new sidewalk gardens. Following is a list of the costs that accrued to build the Mission Greenbelt ‘Garden for the Birds’ at Sangati Center.
·      Permits at $185 each, for two neighboring properties: $370
·      Concrete cutting (discounted price from Habitat Potential): $600
·      Debris container (donated by Sunset Scavenger Co.): $1,060
·      Soil (donated by Broadmore Landscape Supply): $57
·      Plants (discounted price from UC Botanical Garden): $432
·      Miscellaneous supplies and protective fencing: $110

Included in our last proposal was a letter from James DeVinny, sidewalk garden permit inspector for San Francisco Department of Public Works, Bureau of Urban Forestry. James lives along the selected Mission Greenbelt route, and he has agreed to lend the sidewalk in front of his home as one location for the ‘Carnatic Urban Garden Concerts’. We have also identified other willing participants nearby Sangati Center and/or along the proposed Mission Greenbelt route.

My contribution to this project will be to meet with these residents and/or business owners, work with them and my team of landscape architects and naturalists to create sidewalk garden site drawings and work with Gautam and Anantha to set dates appropriate for the ‘Carnatic Urban Garden Concerts.’ I will facilitate the installation of these new gardens from removing concrete to amending soil and coordinating deliveries to planting native and other drought-tolerant plants and from coordinating community volunteer efforts to planning for ongoing garden maintenance.

3. Explain how your artistic innovation project is “pushing the envelope” for you or your artistic work process, and how it will enhance your work as an artist in the future. Describe the artistic risks you foresee if any. (Max 600 words).

If we receive the funding for ‘Carnatic Urban Garden Concerts’ Gautam, Anantha and myself will challenge ourselves to build this project with four concerts in quick succession. The concerts will serve to motivate my process of designing gardens, working with the city through permitting procedures and building the gardens. Held on planting day of each garden’s installation, the concerts will both reinforce the real physical labor and the concert will create a symbolic gesture that alludes to a possible future with public gardens integrated into the urban landscape.

As each new garden is built, the enduring Mission Greenbelt Project becomes more tangible, and the long-term goal of creating a continuous living artwork of sidewalk gardens becomes actualized. These gardens are designed to create food and habitat for urban bees, birds and butterflies, and in place of sidewalk concrete, the gardens also absorb rainwater into the soil.

Also central to ‘Carnatic Urban Garden Concerts’ is our goal to engage our various communities. Whether culture, neighborhood, field of study, economic status or occupation delineate them, we hope to generate a shared affinity for music along with the physicality of working in these public gardens.
I leave you with this: in his artists statement, Anantha writes, “our project lends the specific new aesthetic paradigm of regenerative growth, taken from the biology of plants and ecosystems – that a rhythmic movement on mridangam grow with an inherent, organic logic – that it first establish itself in the mind of a listener like a seed, and remain aesthetically continuous as it progresses.”