Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hillsdale's one-day "Running Fence"

When I told Sylvia Bogart about my brilliant idea, she smiled her knowing Sylvia smile.

The executive director of Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. paused, letting her bemusement prepare me.

Then she said, “You know that you’ll have to get everyone, and I mean EVERYONE affected by this, to agree.”

The idea, which I blurted out at a Hillsdale Community Foundation forum was simple: Shut down busy Capitol Highway between Sunset and Bertha Court for a single Sunday.

Sunday, July 25, 2010, to be precise — the day of next year’s Hillsdale blueberry pancake breakfast and community book sale.

We’d move the Hillsdale farmers market to the middle of the highway. We’d have music and street theater and face-paintings and a rummage sale and … and.

“I mean EVERYONE.”

Sylvia’s words were as true as they were risible.

She knew. Here was a community leader who had helped guide Multnomah Village through shutting down the very same thoroughfare for Multnomah’s rollicking annual parade.

So she was smiling, you see, because she knew the Great Hillsdale Capitol Highway Shutdown could be done.

I was smiling too, but only partly because of Sylvia and the Multnomah parade. I was thinking, as I often do in absurd moments like this, of “Running Fence.”

In the early ‘70s I’d dropped out of journalism and teaching to raise goats in rural, undulating Sonoma County, about an hour north of San Francisco. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a seemingly mad conceptual artist named Christo and his equally zany wife, Jeanne-Claude, proposed stringing an 18-foot-tall nylon fence over 24 and a half miles of private pasture owned by 59 ranchers. The fence would cross 14 roads. Gaps would be left for cars, trucks, cows, goats and stray human beings.

Here I quote from Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s web page: “The art project consisted of forty-two months of collaborative efforts, the ranchers' participation, 18 public hearings, three sessions at the Superior Courts of California, the drafting of a 450-page Environmental Impact Report and the temporary use of hills, the sky and the Ocean.”

“Running Fence” paid for itself. But that’s another story.

Now here’s the strange part. While “Running Fence” was a visual delight to thousands, the primary reason Christo and Jeanne-Claude did it was to involve communities, government agencies, property owners, courts and Sonoma County residents . . . in art.

The couple delighted and rejoiced that they had to get everyone to agree. The endless civic, judicial and deliberative debates were much of what “Running Fence” was about. The longer and more complex the public involvement, the better.

“Running Fence” was artwork as everyone’s art work.

I don’t know whether we’ll shut down Capitol Highway for a day of celebration next July. But I do know that just thinking about it and deciding whether to do it will be good for Hillsdale.

If it actually happens, so much the better.

So how about it?

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Blogger AbbotOfUnreason said...

If you do it, you should have a pancake race.

11:05 PM  

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