Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.
- Alice Walker
I love visual surprises. They fill me with fresh ideas and the reminder that humans are full of the endless potential to create. Things like public art installations, alleys full of colorful murals, political graffiti on the sidewalk, yarn bombing, and couches falling out of buildings excite me.
But where I live these visual surprises barely exist.
There are all sorts of things that I adore about my neighborhood, my immediate neighbors for one. But my town lacks the weirdness that comes with living in a place inhabited by artists. Like this altered sign by Banksy, the intersection painting project in Portland, OR these fake shiny geodes by artist Paige Smith. After much complaining I realized, of course, that I had become part of the problem. It wasn’t like I was out there nailing rubber chickens to the side of my house or anything.
Stung with the realization that the suburban dream was about to swallow me whole, I decided to reclaim my place among the artists.
So let me introduce to you the first of what I hope are many more surprising projects to come (along with the caveat that this project is on the tame side — I’m just getting started here, after all)…
What is the Tree Tag Project?
Our neighbors are invited to write their response to a prompt and then hang it from a tree.
What’s the Point?
Bring people together: I want my children to get to know their neighbors outside of hosting the usual lemonade stand.
Empower a child: It’s empowering for children to see that they can set up a real world project that other people will respond to.
Be Surprising: Surprise my neighbors with an interactive project that stops them in their tracks and gets them thinking.
Democratize visual communication: Have you noticed that public visual communication is often limited to brands as they market to us through their loud signs and billboards. Visual noise is all around us, so why not reclaim a bit of this space in a way that’s fun, inexpensive, positive, and community-building?
How we did it
We turned an old crate on its side and topped it with a small container that was filled with crayons, pre-made paper tags, and a card with the question: “What’s your favorite place to travel to…near or far?”
Choosing the question proved challenging for us because I wanted five-year old N to be involved in the whole process. Our brainstorming session went something like this:
- What book are you reading? (me)
- What does your backpack look like? (N)
- What’s the best thing that happened to you today? (me)
- What’s your favorite show? (N)
We finally agreed on the travel question, I think because it’s something we were each able to answer, and that made it all the better since it was important to me that children could respond to these cards as much as adults could.
To get this started we gathered supplies.
And then set it up.
My kids seeded it with a few cards. Some with words.
Others with pictures.
The next day we were greeted with messages from our neighbors who like to travel to Tokyo, the Amalfi Coast, Bali, Lake Tahoe, the local walking trail, a city park in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a host of other places. One neighbor who was out for her brisk morning walk didn’t have time to make a contribution, but she commented (while walking) on how inspiring the project was.
Baby steps, people. Today it’s a question about travel, tomorrow we may paint our grass purple.
My kids loved counting the cards each day. At the end of the first day there were five cards, and by the middle of the second day there were ten. This was exciting!
The project ran for one week, and then we took it down to build the next street project. We’ll test out a few more questions, and maybe shake this up with some variations on the challenge.
Will you join me?
I realize that this isn’t for everyone, but I hope I’ve managed to encourage you to give this a shot. You don’t need a lot of materials or anything fancy to make this happen. And my experience is simply here for inspiration — you should run this with whatever materials move you.
The real joy here lies in the feeling of empowerment that comes from bringing people together and making something fun happen. If you’re as excited about projects like this as I am, will you let me know in a comment? I’m thinking about setting up a series of challenges that relate to this theme and I’d love to know if there’s a real interest…or not.
There are two ways to share immediately:
Facebook: Share a photo or a link to your blog post of your own Tree Tag Project (or something in the same spirit) on my Facebook page
On my blog: Send me an email with a photo of your Tree Tag Project (or something similar) or a link to your blog post, and I’ll share it right here on Tinkerlab! Email: Rachelle at Tinkerlab dot com
More Neighborhood Interventions
Keri Smith wrote a cool book called the Guerilla Art Kit, which is full of all kinds of public art interventions that share the spirit of this project.
A question for you
What other ideas do you have for neighborhood art installations or interventions?