Love was recently high in the air at PPS, as we were regaled with tales of a heartfelt summertime voyage around New York City’s five boroughs, where deeply-held secrets, innermost dreams, and impassioned desires were divulged by locals in the bright glare of broad daylight across public parks, plazas, streets and ferry terminals. Inside a giant pink television…to a golden-haired vixen called Aphrodite…with an Australian accent…
Nope, we’re not losing our grip on reality here in the office. In fact, we had the good fortune to be visited by artist Rebecca Macintosh and creative producer Victoria Johnstone, two Australians who had been touring their urban installation, “Love TV,” around New York City as a part of the DOT’s Summer Streets and Weekend Walks Urban Arts Program.
Describing Love TV as a “bold, fun and innovative public art adventure,” Rebecca and Victoria had been busy sharing the love across nine sites with 19 performances in some of NYC’s most diverse and far-flung neighborhoods. Through an outreach process organized jointly by Love TV and local community partners, people went online to either nominate themselves or their neighbors for an interview with Rebecca—aka the illustrious Goddess of Love, Aphrodite—in her public studio, a cheerfully fuchsia mobile theater shaped like a giant TV set. As local personalities revealed all, the interviews were aired on a screen before an inflatable lounge, allowing for prime public viewing with all of the fluffy comforts of home. Interviews were rapidly uploaded onto the Love TV website and posted to social networks, growing “a lively online Love TV community” across the world.
As happy a spectacle as Love TV is, its aim is far from superficial. As Rebecca explained, the project endeavors to activate public spaces and strengthen community spirit by creating a place for “their stories, by their people, [so that communities can share their] personal love affair with their respective neighborhood or city.” Indeed, Love TV’s five-borough journey collated interviews from a passionate public, from boy wonder drummer Marakai at the Jamaican Music and Arts Festival in Queens, who dreams of “a big pool in the park,” to soon-to-be MTV Superstar singer Ray 6 at the TAMA Summerfest in Brooklyn, who was brimming with pride in Bed-Stuy’s music-filled streets: “Tompkins is it! Brooklyn is the place to be.”
In addition to the nominated guests, Love TV also built up its own merry team of followers, from George the Greek, an Astorian poet who serenaded Love TV at multiple locations, to a group of Italian tourists who simply fell in love with the installation and reoriented their NYC itinerary to follow Aphrodite around the boroughs. So why is Love TV so loveable? What’s the secret to its success?
As veterans of pop-up public space activation (Love TV has been touring the world’s public places for more than five years), Rebecca and Victoria dropped by PPS HQ to share tips and tricks over a brown bag lunch with Placemaking staff. They described how, when new to a neighborhood, city, or country and working on a tight schedule, on-the-ground partnerships and a spirit of collaboration are the absolute starting point for any pop-up event. Community partners are essential for ensuring that work fits within the local context—especially when needing to tap into neighborhood knowledge to select an appropriate site, since poor site location can make or break a performance.
Yet Love TV’s charm swells from something other than good site location and thorough research. This installation creates a public meeting space (often in very limited supply, especially in poorer neighborhoods) charged with a spirit of optimism, and uses a commonly-held human value that spans cultural, social and economic differences—love—to inspire positive community conversations and visions for the future. Every participant was asked what they would do if made mayor for a day and, Rebecca told us, this became a significant moment in each interview. With community organizing so often focused on what people don’t want, it’s rare for communities to have the opportunity to come together to define common values by sharing their hopes and desires in their own local public spaces.
So Love TV’s beauty, on one hand, lies in this curation of shared community experience in public space; but that beauty also, perhaps more strategically, comes from the way the project finds avenues for these aspirations to linger. Rebecca noted that Facebook seems to have become that place where, well beyond Love TV’s departure, participants and communities continue to dwell online to share their urban dreams for the future. Victoria and Rebecca hope that the few hours of rosy fun they bring to neighborhoods will do more than simply bridge off- and online community conversations, but also seeding longer-lasting effects–perhaps as an online archive of community strengths and needs which municipal officials, planners and advocates could use.
Love TV is back home now, resting up with Rebecca and Victoria on Queensland’s Gold Coast. But if the project sparked a little something for you, or if you think your community could use a healthy dose of Australian warmth, community imagination, and/or a whole heap of fun, get in touch with these Placemaking romancers, and see what can come when you “turn on” an intimately good time in your neighborhood.