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Palo Alto funds art to unify community

Photo by Madelyn Castro

Thanks to the ArtLift Microgrant project, 10 local artists received $4,000 each to help the community find “connection and joy through arts and creative outlets.”

“Initially, (Artlift Microgrant) was just trying to throw out some small lifelines, but it was really rewarding, and it really connected us with a lot of different neighborhoods and creatives in the community,” Public Art Program Director Elise Demarzo said.

During this round, the public is able to interact and engage with the projects, which was an option that was not available last year because of the pandemic.

“We have people come together in a way that we couldn’t do in the very first round,” DeMarzo said. 

Mapping Palo Alto Together by artist and 2022 grant winner Perry Meigs was one of this year’s exhibited projects. Meigs had participants draw out their daily travels outside of their house from any given week during the pandemic and then had them map out a second one of what their route looks like now. 

“The workshop was all about this reflection of the community together talking about and naming all these ways in which our lives have changed,” Meigs said.

The new program required artists to submit a blind application with an art idea in order to receive funding. The application was then reviewed by a commission that did not look at an artist’s prior work or experience but  instead looked at the project idea as the basis to decide who got funding. 

“We’re looking for a concept,” DeMarzo said. “Once that concept is approved, we work with (artists) on realizing it in a way that is going to be safe to put in a public space.” 

This blind application allows newer, younger artists with less experience to have a chance of making a name for themselves, DeMarzo said.

According to artist and 2022 grant winner Victoria Heilweil, an applicant does not necessarily need to have an extensive resume or be well known to receive a grant.

“People at different stages of their career are getting the grant,” Heilweil said. “The democracy (of the blind application) is really exciting and important.”

Heilweil’s “Small Gestures” project used photography to create unique postcards. 

“(Small Gestures) is actually a project I’ve wanted to do for a while, and I had proposed it to various places,” Heilweil said. “Palo Alto was the first one that said yes.”

Heilweil took photographs she had taken during the pandemic of her neighborhood along with photographs from her colleagues and turned them into postcards. Each card had a specific prompt that participants could respond to during one of the four in person workshops. 

“The idea with this project was to have people think more about beauty and value and maybe not from the most obvious place,” Heilweil said.

After the postcards were completed, Heilweil recorded the participants addresses, shuffled them and then randomly placed their addresses onto finished postcards and sent them in the mail. 

“This idea that you get something in the mail from somebody you don’t know, is really exciting,” Heilweil said. “(Writing and exchanging postcards) gives people an opportunity to give something to their community.”

DeMarzo said, “The community is really responding well to rotating temporary public art. They like the element of surprise.”

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