Julia Vogl studied art in college, but it wasn’t until she interned one summer at a New York City gallery that she began thinking about the public’s access to it.
“They were only interested in showing art to a certain percentage,” says Vogl, 27, about the gallery. “I felt it was being seen by only a handful of people, and yet so many people can get something out of art.”
“[Counteracting] elitism is a huge motivation for me,” says Vogl, who soon will finish creating a 25-foot-high, public art piece called “Holiday Destination” in Fountain Plaza in the Downtown Silver Spring retail complex on Ellsworth Drive.
The Peterson Cos., which manages the complex, will host a public ceremony in Fountain Plaza with free refreshments and entertainment from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, to officially light the structure, which will remain up through Jan. 3.
Baltimore street drummer Thomas Pisciotta, known as Tommy Buckets, will beat out rhythms on more than a dozen recycled containers for the crowd, which will include the general public and invited officials.
“Holiday Destination” is made of 1,000 recyclable plastic bottles contributed by the public that Vogl has spray painted different colors to represent where the contributors plan to go for the holidays.
People deposited bottles into receptacles painted red for some place hot, blue for cold, green for foreign, silver for wintry and yellow for staying home.
Vogl then spray painted the bottles from each receptacle with the same color before linking them together with strings of LED energy-efficient lights supplied by Green Lumens in Rockville.
“It’s a visual representation of data,” says Vogl, who says the structure not only is decorative but also instructive, conveying information about the people in Silver Spring.
“She’s telling a story about the community and how they’re going to spend the holidays,” says Laurie Yankowski, regional marketing director for the Peterson Cos.
Yankowski said the installation is the first of a series of public art projects called “Re-imagining the Holidays” that the Fairfax, Va.-based company plans to implement each year in Fountain Plaza.
“We’d love to see this as an annual event ... with a different artist each year,” she says.
In previous years, Peterson had installed everything from traditional Christmas trees to penguins in a winter scene, penguins being a mascot of Silver Spring, she says.
But this year, Peterson worked with the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County to solicit proposals from artists, asking applicants to produce a piece of outdoor art that would involve the public and also incorporate a recycling theme.
Vogl, who lives part of the time in the Palisades section of Northwest Washington, D.C., was selected from a field of nine candidates, Yankowski says.
Vogl, whose father is British, splits her time between the Palisades and London. She majored in art and politics at Oberlin College in Ohio before earning a degree in sculpture from the Slade School of Fine Art in London.
Much of the work she has produced in England also involves the public in its creation.
In one piece called “1,000 Opinions,” Vogl surveyed 1,000 people — 100 from each of 10 different neighborhoods — about how they would spend a million pounds out of the London Greater Authority budget.
Respondents could pick from nine categories represented by different colors — hot pink for arts and culture and royal blue for education, for example.
Vogl then hung colored banners out of a row of upper-story windows of a building at University College London reflecting the results.
The lengths of the colored banners varied depending on the number of responses for each category, creating the equivalent of a giant bar chart.
The ribboned public display also changed every day, depending on the neighborhood surveyed.
In the “Holiday Destination” piece, the translucent plastic bottles will cast colored shadows as the sun shines through them while moving across the sky, Vogl says.
And at night, the illuminated structure will resemble a glittering pavilion or gazebo that visitors can walk into and look up to see a cascade of color and light.
“It’s like sitting inside a Christmas tree,” she says.
“I think I was selected because this is a project that is really going to engage the community,” says Vogl about “Holiday Destination.”
“They [can get involved] and be part of something,” she says.