Visual Arts

Feed a meter, nourish the arts

Lexington artist Phillip March Jones is the first to participate in Change for Art, a public art project that will put old parking meters back on the streets. Money put in them will help the arts community. Jones' piece features thought clouds that will have the right and left brains talking to each other about art.
Lexington artist Phillip March Jones is the first to participate in Change for Art, a public art project that will put old parking meters back on the streets. Money put in them will help the arts community. Jones' piece features thought clouds that will have the right and left brains talking to each other about art. Lexington Herald-Leader

Phillip March Jones' artwork and art collection are hardly limited to oil paints on canvas.

But even in the midst of folk and found art pieces in his downtown Lexington apartment, the parking-meter head stands out. It sits on a desk with metal pieces coming out of each side that look like comic strip comment clouds.

"They're going to be two brains, the left brain and the right brain, having a discussion about art," Jones said. "I liked the idea of the brain being a series of chemical reactions, and what emerges is innovation."

No, Jones is not a downtown Lexington hooligan skulking around at night lopping the heads off parking meters. He is an artist and the owner of Institute 193, a contemporary art space on North Limestone.

And the meter is part of a new public-art and fund-raising project that was the result of one of those intriguing chemical reactions.

Artists will be commissioned to turn the meters into functional public art that will collect money for arts projects. The meters will be set up around Lexington at high traffic areas, including the Lexington Legends' Applebee's Park and the Hamburg Pavilion shopping center. Project partners include Citizens Create, Bank of the Bluegrass and Downtown Lexington Corp.

The meters have been donated by the city, which has switched to a new type of parking meter.

The idea came to artist and producer Robbie Morgan at the Now What, Lexington? meeting, a follow-up to April's Creative Cities Summit.

She heard artists talking about how they didn't lack audiences, they lacked funding.

"At the end of the day, someone was talking about the idea of 'epic small,' where you do small things every day that lead over time to a pretty big change," Morgan said. "Somebody said, 'Sometimes it doesn't take a revolution, it just takes small change.' Well, the cabinet door in the back of my head opens up, and I start thinking, 'change, change, parking meters ... .' "

She started talking to some local arts leaders, and arts supporter Nick Kouns showed her pictures of some projects that used defunct meters. Morgan has since found a few other parking-meter donation programs around the country, but none directed toward the arts.

The idea here was to make the pieces function and give the arts community two financial boosts. The first would be the payment to the artist: $375 including materials for a meter. The second would be two funds supported by donations: The Artist Opportunity Fund, for artists who need funding, and The Artist Empowerment Zone, which will encourage businesses to create spaces for use by artists.

Morgan's goal is to have 30 meters out in Lexington in the next year. Jones is the guinea pig. He says that overall, the project has its challenges, such as what type of primers to use on the surface of the meters.

To Jones, the power of the meters is about more than their role in the donations.

"The great thing will be in putting art out where people may not see it, and in them interacting with art," Jones said. "That's just as important as any money that might come from it."

Artist's proposals for the meters are being accepted through Aug. 6.

If all goes according to plan, maybe the concept of "feeding the meter" in Lexington will become much cooler than it used to be.

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