Community

Sunflowers Line I-195 in a Natural Art Project

"10,000 Suns" asks us to rethink our public spaces

East Side Monthly Magazine ·

Since June 2016, the public art installation 10,000 Suns has transformed a vacant parcel of the I-195 Redevelopment District. Designed and directed by Fox Point resident Adam E. Anderson, the sunflowers reached their peak bloom in September and are due to naturally fade out with the first frosts.

“I’ve always had a fascination with sunflowers and their ability to become something so striking in such a short amount of time,” Anderson says. Roughly 60 days after they were planted, the seeds turned into the sturdy rows of yellow-and-green that currently brighten the riverfront.

His biggest surprise has been the “unbelievably positive” community response. Close behind was the startling discovery that sunflowers not only follow the sun, but also the moon – something he noticed while working late at night by headlamp. Anderson is a full-time landscape architect, for his own studio as well as for a Boston-based company, and teaches regularly at RISD. Since the drought-affected installation needed frequent watering, he sometimes found himself in the field at 2:30 in the morning.
“During those bleak moments, when I was almost embarrassed that it wasn’t thriving like I’d hoped, people would give positive comments,” Anderson says. “Seeing effort made for something like this – people really responded to it. It made them feel good.”

Alissa Peterson, a Fox Point Neighborhood Association board member, says, “The sunflower art installation is a wonderful example of a new interim use for the former I-195 space. It fosters community through a shared volunteer experience and provides a point of visual interest and beauty.”

And yet there were serious problems with the canvas Anderson had chosen. The soil was toxic from the highway it used to support. In some areas, cultivation could not take hold at all; in others, a nitrogen-fixing weed had replenished the soil enough to encourage healthy growth.

10,000 Suns is meant to encourage people to think differently about urban development. Anderson says, “Hopefully this gets people thinking not only about the development of new buildings in Providence, but about the culture of their landscape being a crucial part of their city. It’s not necessarily always about growth, but about cultivation and artful expression. We need to fight for that along our riverfront and everywhere else.”

Once colder weather settles in, the plants will be collected and composted. They are due to rise again in summer 2017. There will be even more scope for community involvement, with interested volunteers adopting a smaller plot of sunflowers within the larger installation. Opposition doesn’t seem to be an issue; as Anderson points out, “It’s hard not to like a sunflower.”

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