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ENDANGERED SPECIES - This temporary public art project uses transit vehicles and their environments as a medium, investigating relationships between city and region, social and environmental values. From January 2011 to April 2012, four Endangered Species buses circulated throughout San Francisco, dispatched to different routes each day.

The idea came when I learned the SFMTA's “Transit Effectiveness Project” was measuring maintenance, driving efficiencies, ridership statistics, the bread and butter of transportation engineers' work. But no one was discussing aesthetics, or what wider impacts and meanings transit has. It seemed to me that an assessment of effectiveness should include these criteria too.

Like street trees, sidewalk cafes, and parks, public transit vehicles can be lively as well as useful visual elements of everyday urban life. But the buses are so assaulted by advertising, it’s as if our transit system is not our own. But whose environment is it? Who is looking after the places we live? Public transit is about pooling and sharing resources. Thinking of buses together with local ecosystems and  vulnerable animal species was a natural fit once I started to think about it that way.

The project is also a metaphor of the relationships it addresses, like a fractal whose structure is similar at different scales. The images on the buses are at the center, but they are activated as the buses circulate through different neighborhoods and circumstances. And in parallel to the buses, there is the project website, which opens doors to information and partnerships with area non-profits whose work addresses the questions the project is raising: what is beauty in everyday life? what are our responsibilities to the resources we use? How is ownership and power divided between people – and between species?

For more on how I’ve been thinking about this project, see my article “In and Out of Place” in ANTENNAE: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture, as well as the interview with independent curator Catherine Spaeth posted June 10th 2011 at Sweetcake Enso.

The project website is now offline but a synopsis is at BayNature.org, and photographs of the buses are posted on Flickr HERE.

I am grateful to the many people who helped with Endangered Species, to the animals and vegetables that sustained me, as well to these supporting institutions: Community Initiatives, a San Francisco-based fiscal sponsor which is a 501 (c)(3) organization; Bay Nature Institute; San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Authority; SPUR; and the San Francisco Arts Commission, Potrero Nuevo Fund of Tides Foundation, Zellerbach Family Fund, San Francisco Foundation, Adobe Community Foundation, and Christensen Fund.

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