It all stemmed from an artist talk.
Shelly Casto, director of education at the Wexner Center for the Arts, had stumbled upon Fallen Fruit, an art collaboration that began by mapping fruit trees in 2004 and grew into the creation of public fruit parks in cities around the world. Casto, who specializes in contemporary art focused on ecological issues, was intrigued. So she invited the Los Angeles-based artists behind Fallen Fruit, David Burns and Austin Young, to speak at the Wexner Center in 2015.
“Honestly I wanted to get to know them,” Casto says of the artists.
“They have a really, I think, unique and insightful and engaging way of addressing the topic of community,” she continues. “They talk about fruit a lot, but of course it’s about much deeper issues of sharing community reciprocity—those kinds of issues. So I really enjoyed hearing them speak about their work, enjoyed interacting with them. And we talked about bringing one of these fruit parks to Columbus.”
That visit planted the seed for a Columbus iteration of the project. Now, just a year and a half later, Fallen Fruit of Columbus: Block After Block has bloomed.
Created by Burns and Young and championed by the Wexner Center, Fallen Fruit of Columbus is a program that includes an art exhibition by the same name—on view now at the Wex—and the creation of two public fruit parks in Columbus: the Weinland Park Berry Patch and the South Side Fruit Park.
“As contemporary artists, we are often called ‘social practice artists,’ ” Young says. “So we like to make art that creates relationships or creates community.”
Before they could create that art, Burns and Young had to get acquainted with the Columbus communities where they’d work. They began by researching the Weinland Park and South Side neighborhoods, digging through Ohio History Connection, Columbus Metropolitan Library and Library of Congress records. They also made a handful of Columbus visits, spending time exploring both neighborhoods, attending community meetings and getting to know the residents.
With an eye for flora, the artists photographed existing plant life in both neighborhoods. They then combined those photos and created a Columbus-specific filigree wallpaper pattern to use as the backdrop for the exhibition, located near the entrance at the Wex.
On top of the wallpaper, the artists hung black-and-white prints of photographs found during their research. Mostly from the 1930s to the ’50s, the photographs were taken at Weinland Park and South Side settlement houses, summer camps, theater productions and more. When selecting photos, Young says they weren’t looking for anything in particular—just photos that told compelling stories about the communities.
“I think there’s so many stories here. One of the things that became a natural comparison was black and white,” Young says, noting the photos were taken when the communities were segregated.
Bookending the photos in the exhibition are pictures of houses in both neighborhoods.
“Those were actually the only things we found in [the Library of Congress] collection because they were examples of architecture in the neighborhoods,” Young says of the house photos. “But it’s interesting that all the windows are boarded up. It’s sort of thinking about gentrification and displacement, which I think also becomes another conversation in the work.”
To complete the salon-style living room look of the exhibition, the artists found ornate photo frames in local thrift stores, and even an antique clock. The finishing touch is a subtle gold glitter sheen over all the historic photos on the wall.
“There’s definitely something about nostalgia and the past here,” Young says of the exhibition. “Weinland Park seems like it’s quickly getting gentrified with a new population. And the same with the South Side. I think the issues happening when these photos were taken are still as relevant today. And there’s something honoring these neighborhoods in this way.”
When selecting the sites for the public fruit parks, they knew they wanted to build one in Weinland Park because of the Wexner Center’s longstanding relationship with the neighborhood. The Weinland Park Berry Patch will be at East 11th Avenue and North Fourth Street.
“I also remember hearing (then) Mayor (Michael) Coleman years ago saying he wanted to see more action on the South Side. So that was my response to that call to action,” Casto says of selecting the South Side for the second fruit park installation, soon to be located at South Washington and Reeb avenues.
Burns and Young will return to Columbus for the planting of both parks (April 23 in Weinland Park and April 29 on the South Side). While anyone is invited to attend, the Wexner Center put out a call for volunteers to help plant and maintain the parks, built by and for their respective communities. Just don’t call them community gardens.
“Talking about the philosophy behind what we’re doing, is not to create a community orchard or a community garden where people have individual plots,” Young says. “It’s really to create a space to hang out in and enjoy.”
Burns and Young worked with Ohio State University Extension to pick the specific fruit varieties for each park.
“There’s a mix between the familiar—strawberry and apple—all the way to the elderberry, the gooseberry, the paw paw and the persimmon,” Casto says. “People who come to the parks will find things they like and new things to try.”
Park visitors will be able to do just that—try the fruit.
“We’re going to have a big sign there that says, This fruit is for everybody. This fruit belongs to you,” Young says.
“I think it has everything to do with access to healthy food,” he continues. “It’s just the idea that kids walking to school could have a healthy snack right there. It’s incredible.”
Young says they often get the same questions and concerns from residents in different cities where they’ve worked, like, “What if somebody comes and picks all of the apples?”
“Every time we’ve done a project like this, people have brought up these fears and nothing has happened,” Young says, citing concerns about potential graffiti that never came to fruition at a fruit park they built at a bus stop in LA, for example. “I think it’s just really trying to get the word out about the spirit behind this project. It’s about sharing and taking care of people. And so I think that it kind of, in that sense, makes it really not fun to take from or, you know, abuse it.”
Other park features will include picnic tables engraved with phrases found during the artists’ neighborhood research, and on the South Side, a trellis that has space for 16 flowering vines.
“We’re reaching out for people who have incredible flowering vines that they love, that they could share with us in the park,” Young says. “We’re especially interested in vines that have a history. We had heard three stories from three different people that they had Wisteria that their grandparents had brought over (to the U.S.) with them and planted in Columbus. So we called this trellis the Heirloom Trellis.”
The artists are also encouraging neighborhood residents to take part in a tree adoption component of the project that will act as an extension of the parks. Residents will be able to plant fruit trees in front of their houses and add those locations to Fallen Fruit’s Endless Orchard smartphone app, which launches on Earth Day (Saturday, April 22).
Meanwhile, the Wexner Center is now focused on recruiting volunteers and raising money for the project. After meeting the original goal of $5,000, they’re aiming to raise another $5,000 for care and maintenance of the parks. But once the parks are built, they’re hoping to see each neighborhood take ownership of its respective park.
“We’re turning these loose in the communities and really hope to see programming develop in both of those communities,” Casto says. “Strengthening community and getting in touch with nature are two important aspects of the project.”
Says Young on what he hopes this project accomplishes: “We like the idea of creating a space where you’re just sort of adding to the fabric of the neighborhood, making it a better place to be. I think fruit is an incredible symbol of a gift and abundance and sharing, and the idea of sharing things in a public space or sharing with your neighbors is one of the things. And then I think there’s something here about beauty. I hope that people come (to the exhibition) and feel that this is beautiful. But also the images are complicated and beautiful at the same time, which is like life.”
Activism in Columbus Preview
On the next episode of Columbus Neighborhoods, we’ll take a look at different forms of activism in Columbus. Learn how your neighbors are providing clothing for children in need, preserving historic architecture, combating human trafficking and mentoring the next generation. Watch at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23 on WOSU TV.