PANAMA CITY — I was people-watching in the lobby of the Panama City Library last Sunday when artist Heather Parker sidled up to let me know about some “public art” projects she’s trying to set in motion.
We were at the library for the opening of her CityArts Cooperative cohort Heather Clements’ exhibit on cut paper art, which drew a good-sized crowd to hear Heather C discuss her evolution as an artist, view her work, and buy her new art book.
Heather P indicated the downtown area would soon be the scene of some monkeyshines: She and other artists have already begun cutting out the shapes of apes like those you’d find in the classic children’s toy, “Barrel of Monkeys” — only closer to life size — with an eye toward setting them loose in the wilds of Panama City.
“Size can vary,” she said. “Right now I’m using scrap foam I have around. Eight decent sized ones can be cut from a full sheet.”
Allan Branch of Less Everything Inc. in PC is funding larger sheets for larger monkeys, she said. Like their tiny toy counterparts, the foam apes are shaped with hooked arms and tails so they can be linked together in chains and dangled from awnings, trees, lamp posts and buildings.
“Art is about more than murals and painting,” she said. “It’s about exploring, laughter, joy.”
The “monkey bombing” of downtown isn’t planned to happen until June, leaving a few months to amass at least a barrel full before the event. The effort is just one way Heather P’s trying to bring art to the public — and bring the public downtown this spring. She would like downtown Panama City (along with St. Andrews) to become a regional art hub.
“A side-car to my goal here is to expand the thinking of what downtown is,” she said. “Think of Paul Brent, CityArts, Ruby & Irena’s, and others (located off the main street of Harrison Avenue) and generally left out” when referring to what constitutes a “downtown” business.
It’s important to her to emphasize that these activities aren’t being done to downtown, but rather with downtown.
“Public art usually runs the risk of being tied in with litter, property damage, trespassing and the like,” she said. “With public art in Panama City, we are taking a very open approach … a community effort. Together, let’s make art part of downtown — a living, breathing way of life that embraces and enjoys our history, our local talents, our entrepreneurs and creative thinkers.”
Heather P and her cohorts have public events planned for the second Saturday of each month, to run in conjunction with “Art-tique,” downtown’s art and antique walking tour run by the Visual Arts Center. Coordination is done through a Facebook group, which includes downtown business owners and DIB officials. All are welcome to participate, even those who think, “I’m not an artist.”
“Come on, we want you too, we are all creative and everyone has something to offer,” Heather said. “We all live here and we can all contribute to making it a great fun place to live — a place that is rich in opportunity, spirit and laughter — with art as our springboard. … Art is not scary and it doesn’t need to be a big commitment — one step at a time is enough.”
She’s organizing a live painting event for May 11 that she calls “100 Artists+Easels.” She imagines it will bring “wanna-be, emerging, professional (and) pretend” artists into downtown PC “armed with easels, canvases and tools of their trade,” as she put it on a Facebook post.
“I have no plan yet for this, other than to talk to downtown and clue them in, harass artists, and wrangle up easels,” she said. “The date is also closing weekend of the Great Gulf Coast Plein Air Paint Out that spans from Alligator Point to Mexico Beach. I have high hopes that this event could be the one that triggers the Plein Air Paint Out to venture on into Panama City in coming years.”