By Brett Ashley Hawkins
In July 2010, artist Margie Darrow of Long Beach was driving her car while thinking of her next project of artistic expression. “You get a lot of ideas when you drive,” Darrow said. “I then thought, ‘What can I do with the United States?’” Then she conceptualized the idea to do a 50-artist collaboration map of the country with each artist designing on large-scale pieces that, when combined with the other 49 pieces, would form a 15-foot map of the nation, with a depth of one quarter-inch, entitled Oh, Beautiful.
Darrow was born in Detroit, Michigan, and has lived in Long Beach since 1972. She claims to have moved forward with the project with shapes, borders, and her multi-state life inspiring her progress. She also viewed a two-hour television documentary on the History Channel based on Mark Stein’s How the States Got Their Shapes, a bestselling nonfiction work.
After reading his book, Darrow wrote to Stein for permission to use his book as inspiration for the project. Stein replied with great enthusiasm on Aug. 10. “I too endeavored to have [my book’s] readers come to see the American map as something of an art object,” Stein wrote. “…the American map is, in fact, a mural. The stories behind its lines and squiggles reveal how we came to be who we are today.”
With the project still in its planning stages, Darrow so far has secured only one artist in addition to herself– Paul Davies, an English artist residing in Maine developed a rapport with Darrow soon after she met him through the personal and professional recommendation of an acquaintance of hers.
Now in search of 48 more contributors, she will provide prospective artists with a list of criteria they must meet when creating their pieces. Each piece must translate the location and physical landscape of the state. It must convey the artist’s personal connection and/or history with the state. Any derived inspiration or factual contact must be taken from Stein’s book. The piece also may include textural elements, but it may not give the piece more depth than an additional quarter-inch. Lastly, the piece must feature no political content and must be appropriate for viewing by all ages.
Due to the geographical complications of the project, Darrow asserts that not being able to work side-by-side with her collaborators is a difficult yet interesting challenge. The artists will all instead communicate their progress via photo sharing and other technological imaging techniques to be shared on the project’s website.
Darrow estimates the project budget to be around $50,000, or $1,000 per state. In order to raise funds for the project, Darrow is seeking out sponsorship and help through local communities. 2nd City Council, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit art gallery and performance space will act as the project‘s fiscal receiver. “You start [gathering support] with yourself,” she said. “Then you get your community support, then your state support, and lastly your national support.”
Some of that support Darrow has gathered includes Steve Frye and Steven Deeble. Frye serves as a blogger for the project while Deeble serves as the videographer and the publicity coordinator via social-networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The Oh, Beautiful project provides the ever-declining arts several benefits, including the generation of economic growth, aesthetic value, educational inspiration, and historical significance. The map is expected to represent the country visually and to show the validity of massive collaborations. “At its core, Oh, Beautiful is about bringing people together,” said Cheryl Bennet, founder and executive director of 2nd City Council Gallery. “Whether it is the artists who are participating in the collaborative project or the viewing audience.”