I spend my days in the background of the art world, acting as a resource for working artists. I assist with grant applications, respond to calls for public art, build and update websites, and provide them with social media marketing. I do not plan my own public art projects. So when the Forecast staff announced that this year’s Making It Public workshop series would conclude with the opportunity for project funding, I mentally counted myself out of the running. Then I met visual artist Jess Bergman Tank.
Jess is refreshingly straightforward. She’s young, but exudes an air of competence that is both compelling and comforting. The deftness with which she balances the demands of a working artist with those of motherhood is enviable. In other words, Jess is a force to be reckoned with. When she puts her mind to something, you can be sure it will get done.
A convincing example of Jess’ determination is her dedication to the annual hunt for the St. Paul Winter Carnival medallion. She participates in the search every year, a tradition that began when she was just a baby. To Jess, there is nothing quite like the magic of being out in a group of people looking for something special left for anyone to find. She is drawn by the inclusivity of the medallion search, and as she has grown into her own as an artist her thoughts have turned to the intersection of inclusivity and accessibility in regards to public art. Fascinated by the potential for public art to be both a destination and a pleasant surprise on an ordinary day, Jess went into Forecast’s workshops with the seeds of an idea.
Forecast’s Making It Public funding and funding from the Lowertown Future Fund gave structure to the Find Me Hide Me project by stipulating community engagement with a specific location. With Lowertown St. Paul chosen as the epicenter of the project, Jess and I zeroed in on historically significant points in the specified geographical area. With thanks to the Minnesota Historical Society, we built a website that provided accurate background information on our chosen locations, complete with relevant archival images. By engaging the project’s stakeholders with historical anecdotes about the area, we hoped to deepen their connection to Lowertown.
Each researched location was linked to an artistically rendered symbol or representation of iconic Lowertown architecture that would be featured on bronze tokens with the project’s website address and hidden randomly throughout Lowertown. Once the tokens were hidden, an interactive map was activated on the website. As tokens were found, users could input the location where they found their token before re-hiding it for others to discover.
The project kicked off in earnest with a bronze pour over the summer of 2015. Utilizing Jess’ Pedal to the Metal foundry (a small, portable metal foundry provided by a previous funding bid), the pour took place in conjunction with a well-attended Music in Mears event. Participants had the opportunity to help mold and pour the bronze tokens. Once over 50 tokens were made, they were hidden and the game began.
While Jess acknowledges the project’s inspiration comes in part from search for the St. Paul Winter Carnival medallion, Find Me Hide Me makes a specific deviation: there are no clues to help find the tokens. “I wanted to be sure that anyone could have a chance to find a token,” she says. “To me, that means no clues. I want people to be able to stumble across a token in their daily life. I am very curious to see how many will be recorded and, of those recorded once, how many will be re-hidden and recorded again.”
So far, there has been more participation in the project than Jess and I anticipated. “Some of the finders intentionally went looking for tokens and attended the live bronze pour, but most seem to be folks who came across a token accidentally and were intrigued enough to log onto the site and learn about what they had found. I think that is really exciting,” states Jess. Though the project technically only runs through the end of November, Jess sees it going far beyond any deadlines. “I hope to see Find Me Hide Me spread. I see this as an open-ended project that can move to new locations and grow. I would love to travel the states with it or even do some international sites. I don’t know where the end will be, and I am curious to see how the project evolves over time.”
While we both love the idea behind Find Me Hide Me, it would have simply remained an idea without the knowledge and financial backing that Forecast Public Arts and the Lowertown Future Fund provided. Now, moving forward with an effective framework and a track record of success, Jess’ project can continue to grow beyond the confines of Lowertown. Personally, I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
This project is made possible through the generous support of the Lowertown Future Fund.