Artist Stephen Glassman with a digital rendering of his project that aims… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)
Over the last seven weeks, artist Stephen Glassman asked people to think outside the billboard. Re-imagine them, he urged, as floating bamboo gardens.`
More than 1,500 people did just that, donating money to the project dubbed "Urban Air." By Tuesday afternoon, the entire $100,000 budget and more had been raised via Kickstarter, an online public funding platform.
"I feel a real kind of freedom in the world in a more powerful, creative way," Glassman said after learning that the project had met its financial goal. "It feels like a whole new territory. I mean the sky's the limit, literally. What's so great is this was a vote for something green and beautiful and ridiculous in the world."
Glassman, known for his free-form bamboo installations in the 1990s, had spent the day at his Topanga home nervously eyeing the Kickstarter website. If projects are not funded by the cutoff deadline, then all donations are forfeited.
Just a couple hours shy of the deadline, emails of congratulation began pouring in. Urban Air was fully funded.
"It was kind of amazing; you could just feel everybody looking at the screen and checking in," Glassman said. "There was a huge feeling of community. One woman wrote 'I'm so glad this happened. I know this is your project, but it felt like my project.' "
The total of $100,772 raised will go toward retrofitting the first billboard. Glassman sees it as a prototype that could be re-created around the world and reinterpreted with different plants and billboard shapes. He plans for this first one to be placed near a Los Angeles freeway or busy thoroughfare. The billboard garden would grow bamboo — chosen because it takes up relatively little root space but attains great height.
Summit Media has agreed to donate a billboard. As for permits, "there isn't a check-the-box building permit for putting bamboo trees on a billboard," said Alex Kouba, the founder of Summit. "There's a lot of controversy swirling around billboards, but I think if city leaders appreciate the cultural impact of this and look at it from an artistic angle they'll have the foresight to support it."
A spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety has said the agency would need to consult with the city attorney's office before approving a permit for the unprecedented project.
If things go as hoped, Glassman thinks Urban Air could be completed as early as February.
The hundreds of people who contributed to the campaign around the world are eager to see the project take root.
Casey Rocke, who donated $30, said she hopes updates are posted as the project gets underway. "I'd like to see … how they're making this happen and how other people can make something similar happen," she said.
The 25-year-old Miracle Mile resident has contributed to Kickstarter projects in the past, but said she feels a sense of ownership when it comes to Urban Air.
"It was a really cool idea — that nature is taking back urban spaces," she said.