Reclaim Market Street!

Reclaim Market Street exhibition still

Kiosk from the exhibition at SPUR in San Francisco

Reclaim Market Street! is an exhibition and series of public programs created by the Studio for Urban Projects and hosted by SPUR (the San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association), in San Francisco, CA.

Studio for Urban Projects is an art and design collaborative that, according to their website, “perceives art as a means of advancing civic engagement and furthering public dialogue.” Together, the Studio’s core members–Alison Sant, Richard Johnson, Marina McDougall, Kirstin Bach and Daya Karam–operate a storefront in the Mission District of San Francisco and have created public art projects for the city of Seattle, and the 2010 01SJ Biennial.

Installation shot from Reclaim Market Street! exhibition by Studio for Urban Projects

This research-based exhibition largely consists of a curated set of examples of public projects and interventions that have had positive impacts in other cities that is held together by a clever exhibition design consisting largely of cardboard–cardboard seats, walls, signage, kiosks, and even flooring. The meat of the project lies in its public programs of walking tours, guided bike rides, impromptu parks, and outdoor events that challenge the public to participate in redefining what they expect from (and how they interact with) city streets.


Applications available to the public as part of the exhibition at SPUR.

Indoors, I found the way the exhibition challenges people to take immediate action most refreshing. Within SPUR are work stations displaying applications where you can immediately apply to “Create a Park,” “Make Your Own Bike Lane” or “Plant the Sidewalk.” Outdoors, their project is about gathering people together to acknowledge history while contributing to aspirational scenarios of the future.

This project is a perfect example of how artists are using their practice to help create solutions to real-world problems. Market Street is the central transit corridor of San Francisco. On one side is Ferry Plaza and the bustling Financial District, on the other side is the colorful Castro District where shops and cafes line the street. In the middle is the Central Market District. Originally a theater district, years of economic decline have left it more known for strip clubs, panhandlers, graffiti, and empty storefronts. The City of San Francisco has launched a revitalization campaign and other organizations such as the San Francisco Arts Commission and Gray Area Foundation for the Arts have been actively working to literally bring art to the street.

Jackson Strand theater with public art

Paz de la Calzada painting Central Market Dreamscape, 2011. Mural, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco. Courtesy of the ARTery Project, San Francisco Arts Commission. Photo: Lydia Gonzales.

Reclaim Market Street! adds to this local dialogue and is about using Market Street as muse in a public conversation around expand the use cases for city streets beyond automobile traffic to include safe and engaging spaces for bikers and pedestrians. Because Central Market Street District is a place people are more likely to pass through quickly, Studio for Urban Projects has created a framework that challenges people to spend time on the street. A particularly interesting program that will take place on October 15th is “Temporary Urban Experiments in Creating New Public Spaces.” Child-friendly urban planning more often than not sequesters children within fenced off playgrounds. But what if play was incorporated back into street life?

imagination playground inage from new york

The Imagination Playground installed near South Street Seaport in New York City. Image courtesty of

For this project, they are featuring the Imagination Playground Kit designed by David Rockwell and the Rockwell Group within an urban plaza that is normally dominated by concrete.

With public funds for the arts dwindling, revitalization of cities through the arts and culture is one area that is receiving greater attention in recent times. As an example, the NEA is echoing this call for a revitalization of cities through the arts by recently announcing its inaugural “Our Town” grants that help 51 communities, including San Francisco and San Jose, CA, revitalize their neighborhoods through strategies involving the arts. Creative placemaking is a challenge to reclaim our urban centers, which is precisely what Studio for Urban Projects is doing in focusing their energies toward the Central Market Street District.

Much of what Studio for Urban Projects suggests is common sense. Safe and scenic bike paths through the city, reclamation of under utilized spaces, and a move away from automobile centric civic design. It’s the thoughtfulness of the exhibition design and their collaborative ethos (Reclaim Market Street! also showcases contributions by Futurefarmers, Rebar, and the San Francisco Bike Coalition) that works best in using the arts to promote conversations that have the potential to create lasting change.

So the question is, what urban spaces would you like to reclaim?

Soil Kitchen

Futurefarmers, Soil Kitchen

Soil Kitchen is a planned temporary public art project by Futurefarmers addressing issues of sustainability specific to the urban environment.

Futurefarmers is one of my favorite artist groups, and I have had the privilege of working with them on a number of projects (Free Soil Bus Tour, Sunshine Still/Speak Hard, A People Without a Voice Cannot Be Heard), so I was excited to see notice of this new project in Philadelphia, Soil Kitchen. The press release from the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy describes the project –

“[Soil Kitchen] will incorporate community involvement, naturally generated energy, local foods, food exchange, the creative reuse of a brownfield site, and brownfield mapping. This new site-specific public artwork will provide a stage for interaction, dialogue, and education on topics of sustainability that impact every Philadelphian.”

It’s a tall order for a kitchen, but the project builds on a related history of Futurefarmers’ work that bodes well for its success. Victory Gardens – “A local network of home gardens = A community of food producers!” – was an exemplary community involvement project, which sought to at least reference if not recreate the remarkable “community” success of World War II victory gardens. It was also the occasion for the creation of the photogenic Garden Trike, which you can see referenced in the sketch above. Rainwater Harvester/Greywater Feedback Loop was a DIY system not unrelated to the rooftop windmill for naturally generated energy (presumably).

Futurefarmers, sketch of interior view, Soil Kitchen

Futurefarmers, sketch of interior view, Soil Kitchen

The exterior sketch of Soil Kitchen reminds me of a place like Waffle Shop in Pittsburgh, where a normative architectural facade of a restaurant belies an interior experiment in creative sociability. Inside Soil Kitchen, it’s not just dour tree huggers expounding on the chemical propertiesof this and that agent. It’s a party! For Futurefarmers’ Sunshine Still/Speak Hard project as part of Out of the Garage Into the World, they appropriated  the idea of the glamorous prohibition era speakeasy but made it a “speak hard,” where hard truths – or at least assertions in an ongoing debate between solar and bio fuel energy proponents – were debated in forums well lubricated by their sunshine still.

Abiding commitment, expert knowledge/knowledge of experts, social conviviality, a formally beautiful DIY aesthetic, and an uplifting playfulness distinguish Futurefarmers’ projects. I can’t wait to taste test in the Soil Kitchen.

Sidebar rant

Kudos to Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy for commissioning this project, but I can’t help but think that their press release headline “Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy Commissions FUTUREFARMERS for the City’s First-Ever Temporary Public Art Project” identifies just about the least interesting and unimportant aspect of the project. What’s up with that? We produced similarly unimaginative headlines for the 01SJ Biennial, and I also plead guilty as charged. The press is fascinated, of course, by “first,” “most,” “biggest,” and various other ests, but we cater to them in our short term desire for coverage at the peril of lack of understanding and ultimately support over the long term.

Tools for (accessing) action

Actions: What You Can Do With the City Canadian Centre for Architecture Actions: What You Can Do With the City presents 99 actions that instigate positive change in contemporary cities around the world.

Actions: What You Can Do With the City Canadian Centre for Architecture Actions: What You Can Do With the City presents 99 actions that instigate positive change in contemporary cities around the world.

I didn’t see the exhibition but part of what caught my attention is the symmetry between the web interface and the proposed/enacted actions in the city, which is nevertheless not merely literal. Clicking on the ball identifies 5 actions from #79 Paint Grows Soccer Field to #48 Ping Pong Connects Neighbors.

Football Field 1. Maider López. Sharjah Art Museum, United Arab Emirates, 2007. © Maider López

Football Field 1. Maider López. Sharjah Art Museum, United Arab Emirates, 2007. © Maider López

You can combine tools as well, so that the coveralls link to 8 actions from #61. Bicycle Plants Wartime Gardens
(Futurefarmers’ Victory Garden project) to #40 Wheels Give Superpowers. But if you add a bench to your toolset, you get Foamy Velour Suits Challenge Authority.

The integration of interface and concept may or may not change the world, but it’s refreshing to see a site that still tries to be an experience for the experience, and the projects are great to browse through. I’m thinking of taking up #41 Guns Seed Vacant Lots this spring.

Plant the Piece is a symbolic seed-bomb production project.

Plant the Piece is a symbolic seed-bomb production project.

Seeds of invention

The Seed Cathedral: A Fiber-Optic Shrine to Mother Nature's Reproductive Prowess

Thomas Heatherwick, Seed Cathedral, British Pavillion, 2010 World Expo, Shanghai

Time magazine’s annual “50 Best Inventions” of the year list includes Thomas Heatherwick’s Seed Cathedral for the Shanghai Expo. via Archinect

“A house of worship for biodiversity, the British pavilion for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai is constructed of 60,000 light-funneling fiber-optic rods, each with one or more seeds implanted at its tip. British designer Thomas Heatherwick worked with the Kew Gardens and the Millennium Seed Bank project, whose mission is to collect seeds from 25% of the world’s plant species by 2020. The result was a living structure that embodied the Expo’s theme of “Better City, Better Life” and rooted digital dreams in the soil from which all life springs. That combination helped make the Seed Cathedral one of the most popular national pavilions at the Shanghai Expo, where Chinese visitors nicknamed it pu gong ying, the dandelion.”–Time

At the opposite end of the scale, see Amy Franceschini’s Victory Garden Seed Library,  exhibited as part of Small Wonders (top center) at the 2010 01SJ Biennial.

Small Wonders, San Jose International Airport, 2010 01SJ Biennial

Small Wonders, San Jose International Airport, 2010 01SJ Biennial. Amy Franceschini (b. 1970) Victory Garden Seed Library, 2007 (top center)

Auctions speak louder than words

Futurefarmers, Auctions speak Louder than words on Vimeo.

On Saturday (September 4), Futurefarmers will present (perform) Auctions Speak Louder Than Words, the culminating event of their month-long residency A People Without a Voice Cannot Be Heard. Bring your stories – and 3 objects.

Here is how it works:

Objects on Blankets

11 am–1 pm
Futurefarmers invite us to consider what our possessions say about us in this unusual auction. Bring a blanket and three objects from home and spread out on the Field prepared to share a story with others. Throughout the morning, Futurefarmers will collect these stories as special “vocal” guests roam the field.

Auction and Drawing

1–2 pm
An auction commences where you may be invited to have professional auctioneers Glen and Dale Fladeboe auction one of your objects by retelling your story in their own inimitable voice. Futurefarmers will be making interpretive drawings of the selected auctioned objects and the owner of the object can choose which to keep—drawing or object—and which one is awarded to the winning bidder.

How to Build a Voice Box I: Dunce Caps into Megaphones

Join Futurefarmers on Saturday, August 7, for part of their residency “A People without a Voice Cannot Be Hear.”

Futurefarmers, A People without a Voice Cannot Be Heard

Small paper megaphones will be made by the general public. Posters will be printed with a template for the megaphone form and a space for people to write a statement they wish to shout or whisper.

Alongside the public making workshop, Futurefarmers + core group will be building a large, mobile multiple person megaphone.

And come to the 01SJ Biennial in September for more Futurefarmers’ Sunshine Still / Speak Hard.

Futurefarmers to come to Open Field

Futurefarmers: A People Without A Voice Cannot Be Heard, August 4-September 4, 2010

Founded in 1995, Futurefarmers is a San Francisco–based interdisciplinary collective of artists aligned through an open practice of making art that is socially, politically, and environmentally relevant. As part of Open Field, the Walker is partnering with Northern to commission A People Without A Voice Cannot Be Heard, a temporary, free school using the “voice” as a theme to guide workshops and public events that explore methods to amplify, coordinate and channel our individual and collective voice. Auctioneers, theorists, conductors, ethnomusicologists, local newspapers, artists, and speech pathologists are invited to consider “voice” as a tool for exchange and liberation.

Working with a core group of local collaborators, Futurefarmers Amy Franceschini and Michael Swaine will look at ways that the voice has been used to pass time through song, to elevate the spirit through oratory, to create camaraderie through conversation, and as a “megaphone” in the media. The new group will then teach what they learn to the public throughout the month. The project culminates with a public event and live auction called “Auctions Speak Louder Than Words” on Saturday, September 4.

Sunshine Still

Futurefarmers will also present Sunshine Still at the 2010 01SJ Biennial in September.

Futurefarmers, Sunshine Still, 01SJ Biennial

Calling all builders, tinkerers, sound artists, collaboratives, inventors, electronic hackers, artists

Futurefarmers wants you!!

Deadline for Submissions: June 25th, 2010
When: Aug. 18, 2010 Noon – 5pm; Aug. 19, 2010 3 pm – 8pm
Where: Walker Art Center, Flatpak House
What: A two-day workshop with a core group of
art and design students building “Voice Boxes”.
Who: An amazing group of artists working with Futurefarmers on A People without a Voice Cannot Be Heard

Within the context of the Walker’s summer program, Open Field, which encompasses issues around “the commons,” Futurefarmers will be programming several events around theme of “voice” as a commons. We are looking for Minneapolis-based artists/builders to lead this workshop. We are leaving “voice box” open to interpretation. The first day will be a more intensive building workshop with a core group of design students (max 15) and the second day will be open to the public. This is a free Thursday at the Walker, so there is heavy foot traffic with many kids and people who would love to build or contribute something, so preparing some simple aspect of participation for this day is key.

More information:;
Commission: $500

Please send

  • Name
  • Address
  • website
  • email
  • 250 word description of workshop
  • rough schedule of the two days: noon-5pm
  • link(s) to any previous work or 5 jpgs 72 dpi of related work


Call for workshop leader for Futurefarmers project

Futurefarmers, call for workshop proposals.

Futurefarmers, call for workshop proposals. A two-day workshop with a core group of art and design students building “Voice Boxes”. The core group will be able to bring materials and supplies if you organize with them beforehand.

This project is part of A People without a Voice Cannot Be Heard, a month-long project by Futurefarmers co-commissioned and co-presented by Northern and the Walker Art Center for the Walker’s Open Field initiative this summer.

A People without a Voice Cannot Be Heard

Futurefarmers, A People without a Voice Cannot Be Heard

Futurefarmers, A People without a Voice Cannot Be Heard, co-presented by Northern and Walker Art Center, August 2010

Futurefarmers’ A People without a Voice Cannot Be Heard is part of the Walker’s summer “Open Field” programming about the cultural commons.

Three Futurefarmers (Amy Franceschini, Michael Swaine, and Dan Allende, a new farmer who worked as an intern on the Reverse Ark project in Baltimore) came to Minneapolis to prep for their summer project A People Without a Voice Cannot Be Heard, which is being co-curated and co-presented by Northern and the Walker Art Center. Northern Lights artistic director Steve Dietz sat down with Amy and Michael to discuss their upcoming project after three days of meetings with Walker staff, local artists, and potential community collaborators.

Steve Dietz – Amy and Michael, on your website (, you write “Futurefarmers is a group of practitioners aligned through an open practice of making work that is relevant to the time and space surrounding us.” What do you mean by that?

Futurefarmers – (laugh) Futurefarmers was founded in 1995, and at first we had a design studio that we worked out of, but really our primary interest is in creating platforms for sociability. At some point, we stopped paying rent on the studio and began working on a project basis with a dynamic group of collaborators creating mostly temporary work particular to a specific site or situation. For example, A People Without a Voice Cannot Be Heard, is our response to the Walker’s summer theme of the cultural commons. For the month of August, we, along with a core group of local collaborators will explore together the idea of voice through workshops, lectures, outings, film programs, and public events.

SD – Curiosity seems to be a primary motivation and exploration a key component of Futurefarmer’s “m o,” as with projects like Reverse Ark at the Baltimore Contemporary Art Museum or the Free Soil Bus Tour at the 01SJ Biennial in San Jose.

Futurefarmers, Free Soil Bus Tour 2, 01SJ Biennial, 2008

Futurefarmers, Free Soil Bus Tour 2, 01SJ Biennial, 2008

FF – Yes, we often start with a topic that we’re interested in such as sustainability or radical education, and our project methodology is to search out experts and people with hands on experience and to explore the topic from a range of perspectives over a period of time with a core group of collaborators. We don’t know precisely what the end will be when we begin, but we are makers, and it always involves making something along with studying film and literature and lots and lots of informal conversation.

SD – For Open Field at the Walker you are exploring the topic of voice. What prompted that?

FF – Our normal practice is not to respond to specific themes, but we’re interested in working in interesting situations and the opportunity to work with the Walker and Northern Lights in the context of the Open Field initiative was very exciting. We first thought about voice because we’d heard that singing reduces stress, which seemed like a good thing, even though neither of us has a music background nor can be described as a singer. In relation to the commons, however, if you think about singer-songwriters like Woody Guthrie or Chuck D of Public Enemy, there is an obvious connection, and we like working in new territory, so to speak. We then visited a local girls’ choir rehearsal on our first visit to the Twin Cities, and their common voice had an almost physical presence, which was very inspiring on many levels. We hope they can be involved in a kind of choral derive of the city during our residency. We’ll also explore other ideas about and uses of the voice from Inuit throat singing to auctioneers to a film about song metering prison labor to the printing press and megaphones as amplifiers of the people’s voice.

SD – “This field is your field.”

FF – Sort of. We’re very interested in the relation of the institution to the general public, and the open field next to the Walker is perfect as both a literal and metaphorical site for exchange. At one point we thought of creating a kind of Trojan Horse, which would cache people’s unheard ideas and voice them into sites of authority, whether the museum or city hall. In a sense, what is left of that initial idea is just the voice box. How can we construct multiple ways for people’s voices to be heard in a common space? Of course, we don’t know the answer at this point, but we’re interested in a story from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, where he asks the question what would it be like if people could only speak through and with objects. On the first Saturday in September, we will invite people to bring a blanket and their objects to the Walker’s open field, and we’ll see what happens. Maybe there will be an auction, maybe there won’t, but we like the idea of the field being dotted with hundreds of blankets, each of which has a story to tell.

SD – How can people get involved in A People without a Voice Cannot Be Heard?

Futurefarmers, workshops for A People without a Voice Cannot Be Heard

Futurefarmers, workshops for A People without a Voice Cannot Be Heard

FF – Lots of ways. We will be collaborating with a group of local artists on the project, and the FlatPak house in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden will be our headquarters. The public is welcome to stop by anytime. We will be programming workshops, lectures, film screenings, walks and other happenings throughout the month of August, particularly on Thursday evenings. Many of these events are open to the public. They are all listed at for more information.

SD – Thanks Amy and Michael. I can’t wait to hear – and see – your voices at work this summer.