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Arts & Culture

‘Lots’ of Art

New Installation Repurposes Open Parking Spaces to Celebrate Campus Creativity

By Sala Levin ’10

Art installation in parking lot

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

Daniel Merkowitz-Bustos ’21 champions sustainability in his sculpture, “Cyclical,” made of tires he acquired from old bikes, in Art Park. The new installation is hosted by Department of Transportation Services in campus parking lots.

A parking lot, in all its asphalt glory, might double as a tailgating spot, drive-in movie theater or weekend farmers market. But an art gallery? A vast, paved expanse seems an unlikely stand-in for those white walls and gleaming surfaces—but you can see the concept in action right now on UMD’s campus.

As fewer Terps are commuting or living on campus during the pandemic, its many lightly used parking lots today become a unique canvas for Art Park, a new project led by the Department of Transportation Services (DOTS). DOTS invited UMD students, faculty and staff to create and install pieces of art that will each occupy several parking spaces through the rest of the spring semester. 

Repurposing parking lots isn’t a new concept—the idea, said Cara Fleck Plewinski, assistant director of communications and marketing at DOTS, came from the university’s annual participation in the national celebration of Park(ing) Day, in which spaces are converted for community use. Gardens, housing or outdoor dining venues are also common alternative uses for parking lots. 

For this project, DOTS collected applications from UMD student artists, faculty, and programs and departments; The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center assisted with reviewing applications, spreading word of the project to students and providing video equipment.

The seven installations, spread throughout lots on campus, focus on different themes. Daniel Merkowitz-Bustos ’21 champions sustainability in his sculpture, “Cyclical,” made of wheels he acquired from old bikes. 

“I want people to see that you can make art out of secondhand materials,” said Merkowitz-Bustos, a double major in studio art and computer science. “You can find whatever old thing you have and use that.” 

The team from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ information and education technology office wanted to highlight a staple of their COVID-19 experience: the Zoom happy hour. 

“The idea of a Zoom happy hour is a little silly, so we went with that to make it lighthearted,” said Koralleen Stavish, AGNR systems analyst. Cube shelving units came together to make a grid screen—“ We were going for that ‘Brady Bunch’ squares on squares,” said Stavish—and file cabinets added an “Office Space”-esque touch. 

Untrained as artists, the AGNR team saw the project as an opportunity for some diversionary fun. “It was just like doing those dioramas for your book report in fourth grade,” said Stavish. “It was that kind of arts-and-crafts level of experience.”

Fleck hopes the installations will also be a source of joy for viewers—whether or in person or through the DOTS website, where a virtual map will include project descriptions, biographies of the artists and additional information.

Stavish herself found a certain comfort in the endeavor. “The project was supposed to capture us trying to retain some of the camaraderie you have when you’re in office physically,” she said. “The Zoom happy hour is a wry interpretation of trying to maintain that, because you can only do so much in a Zoom environment. But we still like each other, so, phew, we made it.” 

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