Oak Park shop owner Ruebi Jimenez was curious this week about the eight red umbrellas hanging from a tree across the street from her shop.
Against blue sky and nestled in a leafless tree, the umbrellas call out to the eye, hovering 15 to 20 feet above the intersection of Broadway and 34th Street.
Maybe it was the work of an artist making a statement about California and the drought? Maybe a guerrilla artist affiliated with the Red Umbrella Project trying to make a statement about sex worker rights? Someone inspired by the 1991 art installation of Christo’s massive umbrellas in the Grapevine area and Japan?
Josie Lee, who owns Rire Boutique, was also curious.
“I Googled it, but I couldn’t find anything” she said. Her search turned up a Vancouver art project, but she was still mystified as customers asked about them.
It turns out the display was the work of the Oak Park Business District and its executive director, Seann Rooney. While some artists have used red umbrellas for very specific causes, Rooney said he just wanted to add some color and art to a district that’s rapidly changing as new shops and restaurants move into the western edge of the neighborhood.
Rooney said the umbrella art was a low-cost way to bring a little flavor to the corner.
“It’s quick, it’s easy. We’re not removing trees. Maybe putting a smile on someone’s face, maybe making them think about something – for next to nothing,” Rooney said. “It’s not a new concept. It’s been done all around the world and people love it.”
Rooney said he used an extension ladder and zip ties to install the umbrellas on Sunday. The display will remain for a month and is in keeping with a broader interest in activating the district with pop-up events, music, buskers and art, he said. It’s a direction that city leaders, including Mayor Darrell Steinberg, have pushed citywide.
In addition to spontaneous activities, the district does a monthly “Gather” event on the second Thursday of the month and “First Friday” events, Rooney said.
“I was more romanced by the idea that it was guerrilla art,” said Jimenez, who spent Tuesday setting up Valentine’s Day items in her retail shop Miel.
Two doors down, Lee was happy that her business district was working to improve the community.
“I appreciate what he did. To me, it’s cooler that he climbed a ladder and did that,” Lee said.
It was enough to capture the attention of shopper Sharon Jackson. As she stepped out of Rire, she pulled out her phone to take a picture and began asking others about it.
“It’s certainly interesting and catches the eye,” said Jackson.