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Look Around!

Dream by Ana Teresa Fernandez

It was during this past summer prior to moving away to college that I would spend most of my days driving over to San Francisco to spend my afternoons. I loved watching people in full relaxation mode, laying out on the grass of Golden Gate park under the beautiful glow of golden hour. Others, sitting outside restaurants as I drove down Little Italy, drooling at the the yummiest-looking calzones I have ever seen in my life. There was something about the boats parked right outside of the Oracle baseball park and the bay reflecting them better than any mirror. San Francisco is truly a wonderful place to be, and the reason why I can't ever seem to stay away for too long.

This constant commute to the city allowed me to notice this huge sign that was placed right up on the east side of Bernal Hill. It spelled out the word, “DREAM” in bright metallic letters that were positioned perfectly for the sun to gleam against it and make it noticeable for anyone who was entering or exiting San Francisco. Each time I passed it, it would hold this incredible power over me, and I grew so intrigued to find its meaning that I went home later that day to google it. I came to find that this public installation was created by an artist named Ana Teresa Fernandez to honor the life of Mike “Dream” Francisco–a graffiti artist and peace fighter who was killed during a robbery in Oakland back in 2000. This commemoration is meant to catch the eyes of those who not only live in the area, but those who come across it while traveling to different destinations on the highway. It is supposed to incentivize individuals to think about their goals and aspirations in hopes that they will pursue them.

Having dived into the background of this striking piece just made me want to look up more that were around the area so that I could go and visit them. From there, I came across all of these cool pieces from all around the world which only made me grow more and more fascinated by this form of art. I was able to learn about the purpose of public art installations as a whole and the impact that they have upon the culture, economic power and overall aesthetic of a community.

An artist who focuses on public art installations that has caught my eye is Jenny Holdzer, one of America’s most respected conceptual artists. Holdzer is famous for her ability to get the town talking through her clever text-based works. She will put up billboards or project messages onto buildings using LED lights that communicate her concern with social issues related to violence, sexuality, oppression, human rights, feminism, power, war and death. My personal favorite is her Raise Boys and Girls the Same Way Jumbotron installation at a New York ballpark. Here, Holdzer is criticizing gender normalities that continue to linger among society, and the stereotype that boys are the only ones who belong in baseball arenas. This of course, left the crowd absolutely speechless.

Another piece that I love is George Segal’s Gay Liberation installation from 1979 that honors the gay rights movement and commemorates the event that went down at the Stonewall Inn in 1969. At the time, the Stonewall Inn restaurant–which had closed for renovation–reopened as a bar catered towards homosexual individuals. Not long after, police raided the Stonewall Inn and a fight begun which left 13 people in handcuffs. Once the news of the raid came out to the public, people grew enraged and began to protest, advocating for the legalization of gay bars. That summer, a group of activists organized the first ever gay and lesbian march that went from Washington Square to Stonewall. This became a key event of the gay rights movement in the United States which is the reason that Segal chose to create this statue. His statue became this beautiful hallmark that represents the LGTBQ community, one that people love to go over to visit.

Essentially, public art installations are meant to define the identity of a community as well as develop a sense of pride among those who belong to them. After having visited various of them in San Francisco--particularly The Hearts of San Francisco, which are scattered throughout the city and inspired by Tony Bennett's song "I Left My Heart In San Francisco,"--I could definitely feel that sense of belonging. Not always are these pieces visually appealing, but oftentimes also work as powerful voices to fight against injustices. They can be made out of anything too! Murals, sculptures, signs--really anything that catches the eye of the public and generate conversation. I don't know about you, but I am definitely inspired to create one of my own someday.

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