Saturday, May 19, 2012

Art, Mosaic, Water and Community

As you know, I've been in progress on the Artesian Well Community Mosaic project for several weeks now.  I spend day after day residing at this amazing natural resource, slowly adhering mosaic fish made during a community mosaic weekend, and filling in around them with a variety of tile, glass, shells, mirror, and found objects donated by local people.

(Product placement: Laticrete donated the very high-quality thinset being used for this project.  Thank you, Laticrete!)

Originally, I planned to fill in the background on my own, to ensure a consistent design and quality application of materials.  However, a tight deadline and experience spending time at the well lead to a change-of-heart.  I began inviting people to sit and apply pieces to the concrete forms and found that it felt more inclusive.  Soon, many more people began to join me on a daily basis, so the project has been moving along at a stronger pace, and the whole aesthetic has changed.  Karen comes almost every day to take her mind off of her ongoing lack of employment after losing a State job.  Thor has become an invaluable member of the "team" as he is also seeking work, along with processing the death of a loved one.  He says the meditation of mosaic is very therapeutic, and he is even smoking less.

Other volunteers include Darla Lynn, from South of Portland, OR - over 2 hours away!  Also Teasy, Robin, Jessie, Kaytrin, and more and more.  Today, a whole family sat down and created a little seascape at one end of a concrete bench.

Meanwhile, I am a sympathetic ear for many of the folks who visit the well.  They tell me how important this untreated water is for them.  Most of these people feel possessive of the space.  Some come from places like Seattle and Tacoma on a weekly or monthly basis, filling enough 5-gallon jugs to last until the next trip.
Carol and Donna discuss the essence of water after a Native American blessing, which takes place on the 11th of each month at noon.
But, every day, homeless youth come to the well to brush their teeth, wash their hair, and sometimes to rinse their clothes, laying them out in the sun to dry.  These folks also feel a sense of propriety, but often, you can feel the disdain when someone of privilege comes to fill jugs, to find a band of young people using the place to clean up.  On one hand, many people of all class levels come to this one place, and most are kind and friendly to each other.  On the other hand, I constantly hear animosity and misinformation in the things people say to each other at the well.

People say that the City only purchased the well to take possession of the parking lot so they could generate more revenue.  Others say they did it so they can police the space and control behavior.  They tell each other that the City painted over the murals.  If I ask where they heard the information, they can't answer.  One man asked me, "Isn't it obvious?"

I understand that disenfranchised people feel a reasonable distrust of authority, but these attitudes are not based on any real information, and they are polarizing.  It is sad to see so many people coming to this place for the same purpose, but looking at each other with suspicion and fear, and spreading paranoid rumors.

I hear people complain that "they took the Olympia out of the well" when they took steps to improve the space, turning it into a mini-park.  I hear others complain that the improvements are so industrial looking that they are an insult to the spirit of the Artesian Well.

As the mosaic has come together, people have been very supportive.  For those who felt the concrete forms were ugly, they are excited to see them covered in sparkling color and design.  For those who felt it was too "yuppified", the inclusivity of the process has made them feel that it is by and for the community, and everyone who has worked on it brings people by to show off their contribution.  So, my hope is that by facilitating this process, I will create a convergence point.  The well is an incredible natural resource, accessible to everyone.  It is a gathering point; a crossroad for people from all stations of life and for all opinions.  Here the twain shall meet: at the well.
It took 2 weeks to complete this section of the project.  I expect to work at least 2 more weeks to cover all of the concrete forms.

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