A long-empty kiosk on downtown Redwood City's Courthouse Square is now a new venue for art. The kiosk, which years ago housed a coffee shop, will be home to a rotating series of site-specific installations in a variety of media by both local and non-local artists, according to Lance Fung, whose Woodside-based Fung Collaboratives is curating the new art space.
Redwood City photographer and Civic Cultural Commissioner Erin Ashford is the first artist to be featured. Her January installation, "We Make a Home," is being made in partnership with the public, as Ashford makes casts of the hands of community members and displays them like tiles on a wooden house-like structure with an acrylic roof.
The inspiration for the project stemmed from a photograph Ashford took of a building near Sequoia High School. The variety of brown in the roof tiles, she noticed, resembled skin tones.
"The symbolism of the home, of it being the roof, as this place that's safe and protected but also diverse, I was wondering how I could communicate that," she said. She considered creating a photographic project but ultimately decided on a more collaborative process, involving community volunteers.
For "We Make a Home," she creates a mold of each participant's hand, then uses that to create a plaster cast. The volunteers themselves choose and mix the pigment with which to color the finished hand, giving them power over how they're represented.
"People start talking about a lot of interesting things in that space. We're not all one color; there's so much in us; our backgrounds are so rich. That comes through when people are putting their pigment in the plaster and mixing it up," she said.
She's also recording audio of participants anonymously describing what, to them, makes a home.
"A house is like wood to a woodpecker and home is like warmth from a flame of a candle," one voice states. "For me, home is more of a feeling than a place," says another. "It's that feeling of acceptance that comes from being around the people who know me best. It's that sigh of relief when I come home and really let down my guard."
Although "We Make a Home" is already on display in the kiosk, volunteers are welcome to sign up at erinashford.com to participate in one of the upcoming workshops being held throughout the month and talk to her about her work.
"We really wanted to have a Redwood City artist be the first we exhibit. It allowed her to do her first installation piece and first public art piece ever," Fung said. "I think her piece is stunning, particularly at night time when the house structure is sort of glowing."
Fung Collaboratives, which curates major installations around the nation and the world and has worked pro-bono on several local projects, as well as being hired to help create Redwood City's master plan for arts, began looking around for a Bay Area exhibition space a few years ago.
The kiosk, although originally rejected as being too small, eventually proved inspirational to Fung and his team.
"I really don't know of any exhibition platforms quite like this. The primary way of viewing and experiencing the Art Kiosk is looking into this urban fishbowl," he said, adding that since it's "ridiculously small," the installations won't require the staff, such as docents and guards, of more traditional venues.
"Although this is a nonprofit venture, like a mini-museum, I wanted it to change quickly since people do see it day and night," Fung said, making the quick turnaround in installations more akin to a commercial gallery than most nonprofit spaces, which tend to keep exhibitions up for months at a time.
The caliber of the 10 planned artists, he said, is high.
"I can honestly say, this program would be befitting for my SoHo gallery, so having it in the Peninsula is even more meaningful for us and our partners," he said.
In February, New Mexico artists Eliza Naranjo Morse and Nora Naranjo Morse will install their piece, "Seeking Life." While the complete lineup is still being finalized, Fung said other highlights will include notable Bay Area artist Paul Kos and a finale involving art students from San Jose State University.
The $50,000 in funding for the Art Kiosk's pilot year comes from the Redwood City Improvement Association, an organization administered by the chamber of commerce.
"The Redwood City Improvement Association is committed to elevating and beautifying the community for residents and visitors so it was a no brainer to fund and partner with Fung Collaborations on the new art installation by local Redwood City artist Erin Ashford, furthering our goals of making the Downtown an artistic hub for local artists," according to a statement from association president Don Gibson.
"Theoretically, if we do our job well, hopefully they will fund another year and get a little more money," Fung said. He hopes to continue giving opportunities to a mix of both emerging local artists and those well known in the art world.
On Jan. 5, Redwood City's Mayor Ian Bain, city council members Giselle Hale and Diana Reddy, Parks, Recreation & Community Services Director Chris Beth and a host of community members (including Fung Collaboratives' friendly canine mascot Wexford) braved the winter weather to join Ashford at a soft-opening reception. A grand opening and ribbon-cutting will be held Feb. 2.
Fung said he hopes the venture will help to further foster the artistic community in Redwood City and beyond.
"It's not about making product; it's about dialog. Ultimately, an artwork is not an object, it's an experience you provide like a good meal, like a concert," he said.