Today I had a wonderful conversation with Debbie, the Right of way manager at the Texas State Comptrollers office in Downtown Austin. I called her in regards to an idea that I had. Its very simple, I want to hand out wildflowers to strangers using this tiny boarded up bank on the corner of 10th and San Jacinto as my backdrop/headquarters. I knew it would be better for me to ask for forgiveness rather than permission if I wanted to actually execute my plan, but I’ve found that often these discussions about what can and cannot be done in public space are so compelling that I must pick at the scab.
Here is how I recall the conversation ( I tried to resist embellishments and maintain the chronology of our exchange)
Hello, This is Debbie.
Ooh Hi! I’m Bridget, I left you a message earlier, about wildflowers.
Ooh yes, I got your message, can you tell me more about what you would like to do?
Yes, I’d like to do a very short temporary performance on Thursday between 3 and 6, where I hand wildflowers to passers by.
Will you be taking pictures or filming it?
Hmm, I guess I’m not exactly sure what your doing and why.
I’m not selling anything, I would just be standing and walking and handing people flowers for a while.
Well, we can’t have people just standing around.
How long could I stand there before its considered loitering?
I’m not sure, and the State isn’t going to allow any activity that would make it appear as though the state represents you.
But if I saw a guy walking across the property wearing a shirt I didn’t like or asking me the time when I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I would not assume that the state was representing him, or that he was a representative of the state.
Yeah well, you’d also need insurance.
I could get some insurance for this, I’m sure it wouldn’t be too costly.
Pause…I still don’t really get it.
Well, I’ve always been drawn to that strange little boarded up bank. The white cubby where the ATM once stood looks reminiscent of a gallery, its so minimal and sanitized. That building seems like a nice backdrop because of its scale, former function and context. I want to create unique and fleeting interactions with passersby. I’m hoping the act of receiving a common flower from a stranger will create openness and joy in interactions with strangers.
Huh, well I guess I don’t know a lot about art. And I’m sure we can’t get the paperwork done before Thursday. Even for filming projects it would take longer than that. But, I do understand the idea of doing something nice.
I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound argumentative, I know its not you that makes the rules, but this is so interesting to me. I can’t help but continue to ask you questions…. Are people allowed to walk across that property?
Are they allowed to stand there for a little while?
Well that’s where loitering comes into play
What if I walked the whole time? If I became a nuisance and was asked to leave, I would.
Well security is high right now due to what’s going on at the capital. And we don’t want to allow any activity that could potentially harm state employees.
I’m sorry; I have to point out the humor in the idea that having a person hand a state employee a wildflower might somehow do anyone harm.
What if I look down at my phone to send a text message or check the time… would I be loitering? How does the state define loitering?
Well, I don’t know.
Who should I contact about this? Its so interesting, how is this all defined?
I guess you should contact your representative.
That seems like a big leap to make.
Or you could call the General Land Office or the Secretary of State.
(I must point out here… she is suggesting I call the secretary of state if I want to achieve my final goal of handing out wildflowers on state property.)
Agh, I wish I would have recorded this conversation, this is so interesting to me.
Well I’m sorry. If you want to send me some pictures of what you want to do an we can start the paperwork.
(actually I got her email and may pursue this further)
… do you feel tempted to hand a wildflower to a stranger at 10th and San Jacinto now? I do! Hopefully it would be Debbie to receive it. She was very respectful during this conversation and I recognize that it really doesn’t have anything to do with her. I’ve had really stupid conversations with state and city employees… this was not one of them. FLOWERS