The Mission Greenbelt Project

January 2008
I am requesting support from the Center for Cultural Innovation to promulgate the Mission Greenbelt project: a proposed urban earthwork of continuous sidewalk gardens in San Francisco’s Mission District.

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.

Many of my recent artworks have taken the form of daylong events intended to draw attention to the relationships between urban people and the natural environment. I find kinship with artists Joseph Beuys, Ulay & Abramovic, Charlotte Moorman and Jenny Holzer, as well as with some Feminist and Fluxus artists. My event works are created for specific locations and require field research and communication with staff or managers at these locations. Creating these works always includes assembling a team of people, mostly artists and scientists, who are most equipped to help me carry out the projects.
In 2005, I notified the public relations office at Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in Oakland, California, of my plans to organize Art on BART: An Artist-guided Tour of the Bay Area Urban Ecosystem. Art on BART was a daylong, guided tour of the 104-mile, 43 station BART system. For the tour, I created a folding, double-sided environmental history map of the BART system and surrounding areas. I also invited artists to create works for Art on BART. Their contributions included short dance pieces, games, readings and photographic documentation of the day’s activities. In addition to organizing and publicizing this event, I outfitted myself as an Environmental Stewardess and encouraged our group and other BART riders to participate in the program.
Art on BART, for the most part was a metropolitan artwork, so in response to it, I created the Angel Island Art & Ecology Festival on the island state park in San Francisco Bay. Participants in this event took the ferry to and from Angel Island. For this festival, I coordinated performances that took place at locations around the perimeter of Angel Island. The event included a map and program that I created with artist Isabelle Le. Outfitted as the Angel Island Art & Ecology Ranger, I lead the large group on a tour of the performances. The festival included a botanical illustration workshop, a biologist who presented his collection of live reptiles, a historian who spoke about the Angel Island Immigration Station, dance pieces by Anna Halprin’s Sea Ranch Collective, a performance about a historic island duel over an escaped slave, readings of prose, temporary sculpture and a tai chi lesson, as well as artworks in the form of printed books and pamphlets. Because the festival happened at locations all over the island, I was required to clearly communicate with the park staff about specific locations and performance details.

Following the Art & Ecology festival, local ecologist Josiah Clark invited me to co-organize an Earth Day celebration in San Francisco’s McLaren Park. Beginning in December 2006 and continuing through Earth Day on April 22nd, I participated in weekly planning meetings with a team of naturalists, activists and educators. For my contribution, I designed the poster and invitation card, created and lead a participatory performance piece and coordinated the day’s artworks.

Organizing McLaren Park Earth Day inspired my current work, the Mission Greenbelt. The Mission Greenbelt is a proposed urban earthwork that will rely on collaborations with local naturalists, government, organizations and Mission District landowners. The project aims to inspire and enable Mission District residents to build a greenbelt of native plant sidewalk gardens along a selected route in the Mission District. The greenbelt will include existing gardens, new sidewalk gardens, potted planters and windowsill gardens. Building the greenbelt will strengthen and educate communities and improve urban ecology. A diverse selection of native plants will attract urban wildlife. Additionally, garden soil will collect and filter rainwater. Presently during heavy rains, storm drains collect rainwater into the city’s combined water treatment system, and sewage overflows into the bay.

Late last year, the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery selected my proposal to transform their space into Mission Greenbelt Campaign Headquarters. As proposed, I mounted a public awareness campaign to inform and educate San Francisco residents about the Mission Greenbelt project and the Sidewalk Landscaping Permit process. The Sidewalk Landscaping Permit is legislation passed in 2006 that allows landowners to replace sections of sidewalk with gardens. Additionally, to equip the Headquarters, I created a new body of artwork, which included a five-part mixed-media collage that illustrates the sidewalk landscape permit process, a jigsaw puzzle map of the greenbelt as well as a multimedia urban ecology sound tour installation.

Events at Campaign Headquarters included a campaign kick-off with special guest speakers, a Sidewalk Landscaping & Permitting workshop and a day where volunteers helped to plan and install a native plant demonstration garden. Every Saturday in December there were tours of the proposed Mission Greenbelt. The tours included a youth bus tour, a planning tour with sidewalk chalk, a bicycle tour and a soundscape tour. These tours gave us an opportunity to distribute Mission Greenbelt information. We put up posters, talked with people about the project and gave letters to local residents. I also worked to develop a How to Build a Sidewalk Garden lesson plan for Mission District schools. All of these events were made possible through collaborations with the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, the San Francisco Arts Commission Arts & Education Program, other San Francisco government agencies, and with local artists, scientists, activists and volunteers.

2. Describe how you currently present or market your work, and include a statement on how you hope to expand your audiences and/or distribution of your work.

Currently, my website serves as an archive for collecting and documenting my work, and the design and content are self-created. Most of my recent work is time-based and ephemeral, thus they require audience participation. However, artworks related to specific projects are available for sale through my website, and my work has been shown in alternative and publicly funded art spaces. At this point, I am not represented by a gallery or dealer. However, curators at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Southern Exposure and the Sonoma County Museum have recently approached me about my work for possible inclusion in group shows.

During all stages of the Mission Greenbelt project, information about exhibitions, workshops and tours was disseminated through invitation cards, street posters, flyers, letters, San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery web announcements and personal email invitations. Mission Greenbelt information was also posted on the Hidden Histories web blog, at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery’s website and at my website.

Unfortunately, a large number of residents living along the proposed Mission Greenbelt were not made aware of the project through the campaign. Because their participation is vital to building the greenbelt, my colleague Steven Leiber has helped me to devise a plan for expanding my Mission District audience. The plan will begin with a street action involving Mission District street food vendors, for example, popsicle carts and taco trucks. I will contract with them to distribute information about the Mission Greenbelt that will be printed in Spanish and English on napkins. I plan on expanding this type of distribution by producing a 36,000 of these napkins to give to restaurants throughout the Mission District. The napkins will reach the most important audience: the people living in the Mission District who will be building these sidewalk gardens. From this piece, I will also be creating gallery-ready artwork.

Throughout the project, I am making artworks to educate people about building the Mission Greenbelt, all the while creating video, audio, and photographic records of public workshops, events and plantings. These works will be ready to show in galleries and museums and will help to promote the Mission Greenbelt project locally and in other cities. Also, I am working with artist Jonathan Weisblatt to make Mission Greenbelt Gardener t-shirts and patches to raise money to build sidewalk gardens.

3. Describe the planning project for which you are seeking support, including specific information about the process you will use for increasing the distribution of your work, audiences you hope to reach and consultants or collaborators with whom you wish to work (if any). (You may attach a brief bio for each consultant).

There are three stages of this project: Mission Greenbelt Campaign, Mission Greenbelt Planning & Design and Building Mission Greenbelt Gardens. All of this work will incorporate the skills and services of local residents, organizations and government.

Installing Mission Greenbelt Campaign Headquarters at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery gave me the opportunity to meet people at nearby organizations and in city government. I am working with Alfredo Pedroza with the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services to display a five-part mixed-media collage that illustrates the sidewalk landscaping permit process, which I created for the SFAC Gallery exhibition. Together, we are arranging for this piece to rotate among vacant storefronts, community centers and cafes in the Mission District.

With support from the Center for Cultural Innovation, I will connect the Mission Greenbelt to similar projects proposed for and/or happening in the Mission District: Mission Creek Bikeway and Greenbelt, greening San Jose and Guerrero Street, PlantSF’s sidewalk gardens on Shotwell and Harrison Streets and Amy Franceschini’s Victory Gardens as well as Southern Exposure’s garden program. These collaborations will help me to reach new audiences so we can work together and share our resources.

For help with the planning and design stage of the project, I will further consult with Suzanne Whelan, Community Outreach Coordinator with Friends of the Urban Forest. I will work from FUF’s model of identifying neighborhood advocates for each section of the greenbelt. Together, we will organize block/intersection planning and design meetings. These meetings will be the geneses for a series of plan drawings, including plant lists, which I will create for each location. These artworks may be exhibited and/or may be used for fund-raising purposes.

Mission Greenbelt gardens will be built with the help of the following local organizations. Individuals from Nature in the City’s Education and Stewardship Committee have been integral to the growth of this project from the beginning. Members of this committee will be consulting on plant selection, volunteer labor and fund raising. Mohammed Nuru, Director of Operations for the Department of Public Works has agreed either to decrease the permit fee of $215 per landowner, or to remove concrete for large segments of the greenbelt. Additionally, Sunset Scavenger has offered to help build sidewalk gardens by hauling away concrete at no cost and providing free compost to amend the soil.

4. What is the timeline for this project? Please provide specific dates as possible.

Mission Greenbelt artwork was first exhibited in September 2007 as part of Hidden Histories, a group show curated by Joshua Short for CELLspace. From November 10 – December 22, 2007, the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery hosted Mission Greenbelt Campaign Headquarters.
Mission Greenbelt planning and design has just begun. During this time, I will work with individuals at residences, businesses and schools to complete the Sidewalk Landscaping Permit process. As soon as possible, I will be collaborating with local street food vendors to distribute Mission Greenbelt napkins printed with information in Spanish and English to reach the audience most impacted by this work.

In early 2008, I plan to design and build the first native plant gardens at 19th & Linda Streets at Mission Playground Pool. These gardens will be made possible by partnerships with Nature in the City and with the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department. Throughout the project, I will get permission to organize plantings in existing vacant lots or neglected plots along the greenbelt.

At the start of the fall school year in 2008, I will make contact with John O’Connell High School for Technology and encourage them to design and build sidewalk gardens adjacent to their school, which borders the proposed greenbelt.

In the fall and winter of 2008 during rainy season, which is the best time to plant, we will begin building Mission Greenbelt gardens. Mission Greenbelt campaigning, planning, design and building gardens will happen in cycles for a total of three years. During this time, I will also be creating performances, events and artworks in furtherance of the project. I will also work to exhibit these artworks and/or documentation of the events and performances.