Meet the artists behind the interactive works coming to the Midpeninsula.
The latest round of projects funded by the city of Palo Alto Public Art Program’s ArtLift grants gives everyone a chance to make a mark. Last month, the program announced the 2022 recipients of $4,000 microgrants to fund public art projects that celebrate a sense of community and connection. The projects will launch throughout the next few months at locations throughout Palo Alto.
The 2022 ArtLift projects feature both visual and performing arts, with temporary artworks and installations, as well as pop-up and scheduled performances. And the projects offer more opportunities for the public to get involved.
“The emphasis on this round really was in bringing joy and some of them bringing whimsy to the public, so that, you know, as we come together as a community out of COVID – or learning to live with COVID – that these are really uplifting projects that help us find connection at this time,” says Elise DeMarzo, public art program director for the city of Palo Alto.
The ArtLift grant program began early in the pandemic as a way to encourage safe community engagement, support the arts and counter isolation. With public spaces now more open than they have been for the last two years, the 2022 grants highlight a sense of connection.
“The first round of microgrants was in the thick of the pandemic and we really couldn’t advertise anything that would bring a crowd. This time around, it’s really fun to be able to allow applicants to engage with the public in a completely different way. We’re really looking forward to seeing how that works,” DeMarzo says.
The overall number of projects funded by ArtLift for 2022 is lower, with a total of 10 projects funded this year compared to 40 in 2021, but the grant amount has increased from $1,000 to $4,000.
“So the idea was that we had a little bit more funding to increase the impact of the project and do fewer projects because, of course, it does take a certain amount of coordination and staff time to manage these,” DeMarzo says.
Projects funded by ArtLift grants have typically been placed in neighborhoods around Palo Alto, but this year more projects incorporate an event or other participatory aspect, bringing art out into the community with projects that travel to different areas of the city, rather than remaining in one neighborhood, and inviting the community to contribute to the art itself.
ArtLift projects will be launching in various locations throughout the fall, and many of the projects feature a component that invites the community to contribute.
Pets of Palo Alto
For their project, Harriet Stern and Federica Armstrong looked to the world’s unmatched experts in making a connection: pets. “Pets of Palo Alto – A Family Portrait Project,” showcases the community’s pets, along with their people, in black-and-white square portraits in both in-person and online displays.
“I know that people don’t really come out of their shell as much if it’s just people, as opposed to if you’re walking down the street and you have a nice dog with you, that people tend to stop and talk to you about the animal and pet the animal,” Stern says. “So that’s really why I focused on the pets because I felt like the pets were a way of introduction into the people, whereas people might actually be really reluctant. But once you put the pets in there, then everybody’s enthusiastic.”
An episode of the British television series “All Creatures Great and Small” that showed a community pet contest helped spark the idea, Stern says.
“I liked that everybody is coming with this single purpose of showing off their pet because they love their pet so much, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a cow or a frog. It still is so meaningful to its owner,” she says.
As Stern and Armstrong noted in their statement of intent they shared when applying for the grant, millions of people in the United States adopted pets during the early part of the pandemic. One of the project’s goals is to highlight the essential role that pets played in providing emotional support during challenging times. Another goal is to “remind us that family can mean many things but one point of commonality across this project and the world is our shared love of our animals,” the statement says.
Stern and Armstrong have been holding a series of community photo sessions at local parks for people to bring their pets to pose in a professional outdoor photo studio, complete with backdrop and lighting. (Sessions are planned through early September, but all appointments are already booked.)
When participants signed up through the project’s website, they shared a little bit of information about themselves and their animal companions, which will be included as part of the final display.
“Pets of Palo Alto” will not only feature subjects of the canine and feline persuasion, but other furry and feathered friends as well, including a chicken and some rats.
The resulting portraits will be displayed in person at Mitchell Park Community Center later this year – photos will be printed in black-and-white vinyl and shown outdoors – but people can also see the portraits on the project website (petsofpaloalto.com) and its Instagram account (@pets_of_palo_alto).
Another unique angle to the project is that Stern and Armstrong have partnered with local high schools to give young photography students hands-on experience in setting up and managing a shoot, plus all the prep and other components of the project, including setting up the website, scheduling appointments and ensuring participants sign photo waivers.
“There’s a lot of legwork to make sure that the picture is executed in the right way and ends up exactly how you want it to be,” Stern says. … So we really wanted the students to be heavily involved from the very beginning.”
For more information about all the ArtLift projects and to see a schedule of their events, visit cityofpaloalto.org.
Artist Victoria Heilweil’s project, “Small Gestures,” emphasizes the beauty and value in the everyday, while also creating little surprise connections between community members.
“I consider myself a feminist artist, and the way that I connect to the history of feminist artists (is) the idea of the ordinary everyday being something that is very valuable and something that should be elevated. And so a lot of my artwork deals with that,” she says.
The idea for “Small Gestures” grew from a daily photo project that Heilweil started in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic lockdown. Her initial idea was to take a photo every day during her neighborhood walks.
“That inspired this idea of just discovering what’s there and not having a preconceived notion. The community aspect of it is something that I’ve been interested in for a long time. I did some collaboration with two other artists named Chris Treggiari and Peter Foucault who have a project called Mobile Arts Platform, and they do a lot of community-based social practice art. And so I’ve collaborated with them on a couple of projects and gotten very interested in this idea of having art be outside of the four walls of the gallery, and more accessible and more immediate,” Heilweil says.
Treggiari and Foucault, along with Bryan Hewitt and Vita Hewitt, are the artists behind another 2022 ArtLift project, The Factronauts, which will present monthly performances in public spaces, September through November.
The “Small Gestures” project, which centers around postcards, begins with events held at local parks and finishes up, in a sense, at participants’ homes, where the postcards will be mailed.
Heilweil has created postcards with some of her own photographs, along with several images by members of the Palo Alto Camera Club. The photos include landscapes and abstracts, as well as more unexpected images that highlight the beauty in everyday things, such as the leaves of a houseplant seen illuminated through a pane of frosted glass. Each postcard is also printed with a question exploring the nature of beauty and value.
Heilweil will hold community events at local public spaces, where she will invite people to choose a postcard and answer the question on the back. She will collect the completed postcards and mail them randomly to participants, so that everyone receives a postcard that is not their own.
Heilweil says that the prompts on the postcards include questions such as “What do you value most about your community or your neighborhood?” or “What do you find beautiful that others would find surprising?”
“All the questions are about beauty and value, and the idea is to get people to reflect on things that are maybe not their first thoughts about it,” she says.
“Small Gestures” events are scheduled to take place Aug. 21, noon-4 p.m. at Lytton Plaza; Aug. 27, noon-4 p.m. outside Mitchell Park Library; Sept. 9, 5-8 p.m. at the Palo Alto Moonlight Run & Walk; and Sept. 18, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the California Avenue Farmers Market.
Miguel Novelo is making people into the stars of live, spontaneous cinema with “Cinetero,” a project that has been bringing a mobile movie studio to local parks.
“Cinetero” uses a bike cargo trailer outfitted with video projection and sound equipment that creates a live sound and video feed, complete with ambient music and sound effects.
Novelo invites participants to tell their stories on camera, and the resulting movie is projected as they speak, so that passersby can see the movie as it’s being made.
“Instead of bringing people into a movie set, I’ll bring the movie set with me and then create the stories that involve the community in real time, creating a kind of a space of magic – I think cinema is magic,” Novelo says.
“Cinetero” will offer a mobile space to make that magic, spurred by the community’s own storytelling.
In addition to the live movie being projected for others around the watch, participants can also see themselves on the screen as they’re speaking, an experience that people have become more accustomed to in the past couple of years due to greater use of video conferencing, Novelo noted.
Novelo has been bringing “Cintero” to public spaces in Palo Alto throughout the month of August.
Of his first outing with Cinetero, Novelo says that there was a bit of nervousness, not only for the participants, but on his part as well. “‘Who is this person walking with a bunch of equipment in their little cart trying to interrogate people?'” Novelo jokes. “But once I started playing music and talking to people, telling them about the project, they (seemed to) feel, I don’t know, maybe a sense of duty to share their story. Also, we’re in a very historic moment, after COVID, where more people are interacting in real time.”
As more people learn about the project and see him around town, Novelo says he hopes that will encourage greater participation. What he’s learned so far about Palo Alto is that it draws people looking to pursue their dreams.
“The people who I’ve talked with are very inspiring people, they’re dreamers. A lot of them came here looking for a dream, looking to do something with their lives. I haven’t met one person yet who was born in Palo Alto, but that is very interesting. What I’ve learned so far from the people I have engaged with is that most of them came (here) because they were following their dreams,” Novelo says.
Though the primary way to experience Cintetero is to watch it happen in person and in real time, Novelo is also recording the movies. He says he may share some of the recordings on the project website (cinetero.org).
Novelo will bring Cinetero to Eleanor Pardee Park in Palo Alto on Friday, Aug 19, 6-8 p.m. and to Johnson Park in Palo Alto on Friday, Aug. 26, 6-8 p.m.