I have been repeatedly asked if I feel the project was a success. Given the results, I cannot hope to answer this with a yes or no without feeling overly simplistic. However, since I did posit the project as somewhat of an experiment or a "social test," I feel that I owe an answer to this question to myself and to my audience.
What I did not anticipate is how much the project would affect me emotionally. Aside from the physical effort, which was at times very exhausting, I experienced distinct highs and lows during the course of the two weeks. The opening performance began the project with a hopeful note. The turnout was good and passerbys were excited and curious about what I was doing. Some were enthused by the concept of trust and neighborliness, some were inspired by the fact that art was on display in a neighborhood more known for demolition and development, and others just liked the cheap treats for sale on the street ("25 cents... that's ALL!?" or "VEGAN!? Ohmygod!").
For the two or so days after the performance, the weather was testy and I sensed a vague hesitation to participation. Passerbys and neighbors perhaps were still figuring out what the kiosk was and how to respond to it. No one had yet commented on the website. I still would say it was successful during these days, though. The theft that I had expected was not apparent. Would the project pass through all two weeks without any petty theft or vandalism?! After the third day, when the $ container was stolen, I was not surprised, but felt a little sad at the thought of someone taking the few dollars. My mind first went to a kid who didn't know any better, a homeless person, or perhaps an alcoholic who wanted the money for booze. But I simply did not know, which in itself was part of the concept of the project.
After a couple more minor incidences of theft, I deliberated with my initial resole to not secure or safeguard the $ container in any way. I finally decided to screw a plastic container with a narrow neck down to the tabletop of the structure. One would need to either have a screwdriver on hand, or create quite a scene of flipping the whole kiosk upside down in order to steal the money. One would have to be desperate, really, to even bother. The first day of this new effort proved to be very successful, and the container was more full of money than it had been since the opening. At the end of the second day of this, though, I returned to the kiosk to find that someone had either burned or cut the plastic in a rather violent fashion in order to steal the few dollars that must have been within. I was honestly sad for humanity upon seeing this. The level of desperation that one must have to do such a thing signals serious social problems for our city, or maybe a discrete problem on the part of one individual. If not due to these types of problems, perhaps the person responsible was just stealing and vandalizing to spite my effort, in which case the project was suffering and even rendered futile. That was exactly the kind of petty retaliation that I hoped to avoid at all costs.
Either way, the incident affected me much more seriously than I expected. So much so that I had neither the emotional nor physical willingness to continue with the project the following day. I felt beat up.
After the day of recovery, I bounced back and was inspired to begin anew. The security guard for the site across the street, Peter, had come to expect and (I think) enjoy the treats. He would cross the street to buy quite a few the first thing every morning. I could sense his disappointment that Tuesday when I walked by the gallery empty handed. Also on that day, I began to notice more postings on the webiste, commenting on the beauty of the effort and urging me to keep going. So I decided to forge onward with the process.
Further attempts to secure the money container (bolting, hot glue) also ended in theft, though by mid-week, the guard, Peter, had begun to take it upon himself to watch over the kiosk. One day, he three times thwarted the effort of someone from the shelter who was attempting to steal the money. His gaze followed groups of kids passing by on their way home from school. And so began what I like to call "neighborhood watch" for the well-being of the project. The metal shop next door very kindly kept the money container and tray for me overnight. Upon retrieving it in the morning, they advised me to stop putting out the kiosk altogether. The thought of leaving money and goods unattended seemed incomprehensible to them. Another artist neighbor aided in getting some local publicity for the project. It seemed that everyone on the block bonded together over keeping the project healthy. It was this result that I consider to be successful.
One interesting feature to the project is that it called to everyone to respond in some way. Work that I have done in the past is far more subjective. Some find a painting beautiful, others do not. Some have an affinity for a particular conceptual work, others see it as boring or uninspiring. Art also has the ability to ignore entire populations of people simply by existing. When money is somehow involved, however, all have an opinion. Even those who are not aware of the project's existence as a "work of art" could express strong feelings about the idea of leaving money out unmonitored. I was urged on many occasions to stop the project, so as not to encourage thievery, or simply because I would be stupid to want to loose money.
Most who participated in the project commented heavily on the idea of trust. While this was part of the concept, it was by no means the central one. My interest was more to elicit a reaction of the passerby to generosity and to the unexpected. No one walking down Dean Street would expect there to be obscenely cheap (sometimes vegan) baked goods for sale on a wooden structure on the sidewalk, with the money left unattended. The whole idea is actually quite absurd.
The reactions to this unsuspecting phenomenon is what I was curious about.
To see if people would overcome suspicions and respond with equivalent generosity.
To step outside the normalcy of the urban pedestrian experience and try something new.
To participate in a communal activity.
To discover something.