Artist Proof: Ellen Lake, Curator of “Bench Projects,” A North Oakland Public Art Series

by Ellen Lake on February 26, 2015

I am excited to say “Bench Projects” is officially launched, a new public art platform featuring work by North Oakland artists on bus bench galleries at AC transit stops along Shattuck Avenue and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. I conceived of the idea of “Bench Projects” after seeing the same message ADVERTISE HERE www.benchad.com on neighborhood bus benches for years. Cross an underpass and walk a few blocks and the benches might read Red Oak Reality or other real estate companies, but along my usual route from home to school to work (Shattuck Ave., Martin Luther King Jr Way, and Market Street) they call out ADVERTISE HERE. These same streets are home to many talented and diverse artists.

With start-up support from Alternative Exposure, a Southern Exposure grant program, “Bench Projects” draws on this local talent to infuse these under-utilized sites with Oakland made print-based projects. The idea is a simple one really and that is to create an artist-led public art platform that rents advertising space at AC Transit bus stops to create ‘bench galleries’ in North Oakland. The project invites artists to create new site-responsive work for 2 by 6 foot community canvases, work that will reach a wide audience – including public transit riders, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. With four benches to start, I’d love to grow this concept and use all 40 benches in North Oakland/Temescal or even better become a citywide initiative, celebrating all Oakland artists and neighborhoods.

The first “Bench Projects” artist commissions are Lynn Beldner and Steve Briscoe. Lynn Beldner describes her creative process like journal writing, but more visual, making art in response to something that just happened to or around her.  For this project she creates affirmations. These particular affirmation, Never give up and Don’t think too much were in response to neighborhood violence a year ago. Other influences in Lynn’s studio work:  potatoes (only russets), handkerchiefs, laundry, laundry lines, pillows, collections, organizing, fossils, anthropology, archeology, biography, and cartography. For this project Steve Briscoe wanted to extend the vocabulary of his graphic work into public space. On two bus bench panels titled From the History of Everything, 2015.001 and 2015.002, images of words, DNA, planets, symbols are connected into a pictographic flowchart that begs and yet resists deciphering.

Please join us to celebrate the opening of “Bench Projects” and the work of the first artists, Lynn Beldner and Steve Briscoe, on Sunday March 1, 2015, 3 -4 pm with an outdoor launch party at the bus benches on MLK Jr/Aileen Street. This work will be up through May 1, 2015. Stay tuned for future work by Ronnie Sampson, Lori Fischer, Seyed Alavi, Andrea Brewster, Kari Marboe, Stephanie Laursen, and more.