Uplift, public art and skateboarding

It’s 12:26 pm on Friday. I’m sitting by the water feature at Lansdowne Park, Jill Anholt’s Uplift looming above. Part of the great thing about living close to work is being able to run your kids to a park or a water feature over lunch time.

My girls love the water feature at Lansdowne. They love getting sprayed, running through the jets, sloshing through the troughs and walking through the waterfall within the statue. Of course, they’re doing things they’re not, allegedly, supposed to be doing. There was quite a row last year about how the city screwed up the installation, making a water feature and work of art that you’re supposed to walk on not quite as safe as it should be. (Of course, the city didn’t frame it this way.)

(Also, they kind of cheaped out on the design, but kids, being wonderful, are able to find the fun even when adults try engineer it right out.)

We often come here in the evening…but not too late. The water function of the water feature automatically turns off at about 8:07 pm. You know, in the summer, while it’s still light and hot out. No biggie.

There are always–always–kids (and others) around here at 8:07, mildly disappointed that fun has a curfew. I mean it doesn’t really, fun will often find a way to thrive.

There are still signs up, telling people to stay off the artwork part of the water feature (though the whole thing is nicely integrated). Some people adhere to that. Some parents (not me) keep their kids from going on that part. (I’ve got no quarrel with parents who do that. Live how you want to live…though this is some of the most adorable civil disobedience you’ll ever see.)

These two attempted restrictions on fun have a counterproductive effect though. (I know, really surprising.)

Many cities are openly hostile to skateboarding. Ottawa is mostly welcoming…mostly. You’ll see skatestoppers all over the place, but we’re also building a lot of skate parks and the city runs skateboarding classes (or, at least, they did a year or two ago). I’m supportive of all this. I’ve written a few times about the benefits to the city of skateboarding, the skateboarding community and a healthy skateboarding culture.

Skateboarders and, to a lesser extent, people riding scooters and BMX bikes are some of the most consistent patrons at Lansdowne. The skatepark is often busy (it’s about the only thing that is busy right now, except for the people prepping Asian Fest and the UFC fan zone), and you will often see skateboarders and BMX-ers spilling out to other parts of the park.

And they like Uplift.

Who can blame them? It’s hard and angular and has opportunities for jumps. It’s pretty cool watching the tricks they pull. There are no skatestoppers, and the city better not install any. It’ll be a massive danger to skateboarders and children.

So, the city essentially shoos children and others away from Uplift at all times, and away from the water feature at 8:07. It shouldn’t take much imagination to figure out what happens. When the target audience is cleared out, skateboarders and BMX-ers assemble.

And there’s really nothing much wrong with that. There might eventually be some damage to the water feature, but I haven’t seen any. And it is public art that’s supposed to be used.

But, y’know, I can understand why we might not want skateboarders on every surface in our city. And I can see how they can damage a lot of public space. (I recently watched the documentary Peace Park and the skateboarders do, in fact, damage that park in Montreal…but they also then repair it, which is cool.)

So there’s an inherent conflict in the use of this sort of art. It’s for public use, but we don’t want the public to damage it in such a way that no one else will be able to use it.

This got me to thinking. I would love to see public art–tactile public art–that was intended to take the punishment that skateboarders, BMX-ers and the rest of the public might unleash on it. Art that is supposed to be worn down, grinded upon, scratched up, scarred, whatever.

Art that is a true reflection of the life that has lived upon it. Art that is indelibly etched with that life.

I’m no artist, so I don’t know the best way to do that, but it would be quite the addition to an urban park.

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One thought on “Uplift, public art and skateboarding

  1. Pingback: Wouldn’t you know it… | Steps from the Canal

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