Arizona Artbeat: Ground Cover Public Art Project

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An ambitious idea from a Phoenix artist attracted hundreds of volunteers who turned a vacant lot into a textile garden of desert flowers. The creation was part of a public art project that not only attracted knitters, crocheters and quilters from across Arizona, the United States and Canada, but also helped hundreds of people in need. You’ll meet artist and project manager Ann Morton along with a volunteer and beneficiary of this unique project.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of "Arizona Artbeat" looks at a unique project unveiled in Phoenix, as producer Christina Estes shows us the project involved one vacant lot and hundreds of hands.

Ann Morton: We're at 1st street and McKinley on the Northwest corner. There is really nothing here. And that's what we wanted.

Christina Estes: Where Most of us see a dirt lot, Ann Morton sees a clean palette.

Ann Morton: I am a maker, and I love the craft of that. But, at one point, it just made me feel like I was in my ivory tower making art. And it, it -- who cares. And except for me, of course.

Christina Estes: When the City of Phoenix put out the call for a public art project to bring attention to empty spaces along the lightrail line, Ann came up with an idea called "ground cover."

Ann Morton: And it's a play on words, when you think of ground cover, you think of, of plant materials that, that is planted to cover the ground but, it's also thought about covering people on the ground.

Allison Ringness: I am a knitter, I am a constant knitter.

Christina Estes: Soon Allison ringness can call herself an artist.

Allison Ringness: Each is played up 28 squares.

Christina Estes: Her blanket will join 299 others to complete the Grown cover art project.

Allison Ringness: Whoever will have this blanket is going to be homeless, and on the streets, hopefully, getting off the streets. But, they are going to have something that needs to be machine washed and will go on the ground, and on benches, and all over the place. And they are not going to want something that's going to unravel. The day after they get it.

Christina Estes: And while she makes her blanket in Phoenix, other volunteers are knitting, crocheting and quilting across Arizona, the U.S., and Canada.

Ann Morton: You know, most of us think of art as a painting on the wall, or a sculpture that we experience, and that's, that's terrific. But, there is a new way of thinking about art that, that it's, it's making context for a community or organizations, so artists will go in, and they might see a particular need or issue, or just a desire to engage with the public, and construct an Aesthetic experience or intervention in the public realm, and that's what socially engaged art is.

Allison Ringness: All these blankets inner good hands.

Christina Estes: The blanketeers paid for their own materials and shipped their creations to Anne.

Ann Morton: We will be putting it in rows going this way.

Christina Estes: Eight months after her idea took root --

Allison Ringness: All right, thank you, everyone. [Applause]

Christina Estes: The ground cover public art project is unveiled.

Ann Morton: Its 20 rows by 15.

Christina Estes: Its impressive to see 300 handmade blankets covering the ground.

Ann Morton: Each one has, has its own personality.

Christina Estes: It's more dramatic, seeing the view from above. Each blanket is carefully color-coded to reveal lush desert flowers, the image stretching 117 by 50 feet.
Allison Ringness: I'm the Orange blanket at the top center.

Christina Estes: Like most blanketeers, Alison shared a message for the person who will receive comfort from her craft.

Allison Ringness: Big things start small. I was thinking to myself of, of the blanket, they started out as bundles of cloth or stains of yarn. But, in the end, they became these big and warm blankets with a big impact.

Christina Estes: From this, the blankets are bundled and given to groups that work with homeless people like circle the city, a medical respite center in Phoenix.

Brandon Clark: What a cool way to tell people that, that they are important, and that we care about them.

Christina Estes: Reynaldo Garza got the message.

Reynaldo Garza: My card, what it says is, this is -- it's made by Kathy, but it has a happy face here. Basically, that's all it really has on there. But, that happy face makes me happy because it is the way that I feel, you know. It is like they knew who was going to go it, and they, they made my day. I feel as if the blanket will benefit me in so many ways especially because most of the time I live in a van, and this will be my bed cover, my everything, I will take really good care of it. It's the best gift that I could have ever had.

Ann Morton: Discovering what has to be done and what can be done is a first step in realizing that this problem exists.

Blanketeer: That one, and I'm pretty sure this corner one.

Christina Estes: Before this project, most of the blanketeers had never met.

Blanketeer: My original idea was to do different searches.

Christina Estes: Now they share a common thread.

Allison Ringness: This has been a wonderful experience, and a rewarding experience, so I will definitely be doing more, more, more projects like this in the future.

Ted Simons: The ground cover project was funded by the City of Phoenix public art program and the national endowment for the arts.

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