Art installation at Hance Park encourages visitors to observe the sky

Scottsdale artist Erin V. Sotak, who designed the cots that are part of the new, said she loved looking at clouds as a little kid,(Photo courtesy of Erin V. Sotak)
Scottsdale artist Erin V. Sotak, who created the cots that are part of the new ‘Look Up’ installation, said she has loved looking at clouds ever since she was a little kid.(Photo courtesy of Erin V. Sotak)

An art installation that started earlier in March encourages passers-by at Margaret T. Hance Park in downtown Phoenix to lay down, watch the clouds and engage with strangers.

The city of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture commissioned artist Erin V. Sotak to create ten “cloud cots,”  which are sky blue-colored cots with the words “Look Up” printed in white down the center of each cot. Sotak said the city was specifically looking for a new structure to put in Hance Park.

Starting the first week of March and going through April, Sotak takes her cots out from 1 to 3 p.m. every Wednesday and waits for strangers to come socialize and look at the clouds. Participants receive cloud cot stickers after visiting.

Sotak said she has loved looking at clouds since she was a little kid.

“We here in Arizona either have a big bald blue sky or we have these fabulous clouds,” she said.

“Anybody who has participated has been incredibly positive,” Sotak said, adding that they have been “very excited, very willing and very chatty.”

Sotak’s work focuses on community interaction. Her goal is to create “brief moments of aesthetic beauty” that are an “interruption of the mundane.”

“There’s that moment where we cross and for that brief moment, we sort of create our own story,” she said.

Sotak has previously worked on projects like “The Grove,” which involved her walking lemon trees in portable pots around downtown Scottsdale and encouraging pedestrians to join her. This project was part of her ongoing “Eternal Optimist” myth series, which is the inspiration for some of her other art.

“It’s a harder sell to get people to lie down on cots than it was to walk a tree,” she said. “I think it has to do with a level of vulnerability.”

She said she has noticed differences in how people respond to her request to look at the clouds, particularly with their body language.

“Some people always keep one foot on the ground when they get on the cot,” she said.

The city contacted Sotak for this project through the IN FLUX initiative, a partnership of eleven organizations across the Valley that showcases local Arizona artists. According to its website, IN FLUX started under Scottsdale Public Art in 2010.

Scottsdale Public Art Manager Kirstin Van Cleef said the goal of the coalition is to bring the community together and cultivate the work of local artists.

“We want to increase visibility of temporary public art in general,” Van Cleef said. She added that a one-application process to join helps artists gain publicity for larger projects.

IN FLUX spans across eight Valley cities and towns and includes 11 cultural institutions, two of which are in Phoenix: the Adaptive Reuse of Temporary Space (A.R.T.S.) program organized by the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation and the city of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, which commissioned Sotak.

Rebecca Rothman, the office’s public art project manager, said the city looked at areas that were “in need of a little help with their programming.” She said the Phoenix City Council is rethinking how they use Hance Park.

“When people think of public art, the first thought is often a standalone sculpture,” she said.

Rothman said the shorter time frame of temporary art supports more social and experimental projects.

“It allows the public to see all the different ways that artworks can infuse and enhance the environment,” she said.

Sotak takes the cots out at other times aside from her Wednesday schedule. She will make them available to the public at enHance: The New Park Plan on March 27, the upcoming McDowell Mountain Music Festival starting on March 28 and for El Dia de los Ninos, an annual celebration of our nation’s children.

“It’s not necessarily as much about even looking at clouds as it is taking that moment out of their day to do something unusual and engage with another person,” Sotak said.

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