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Message in a Bottle || Window Display, Penpal Project & Treasure Hunt

826 Valencia window

What: A multi-faceted project involving a window display, a penpal exchange, and a treasure hunt

When: Summer and Fall, 2010

Roles: Built and held creative vision for all aspects of the project | Coordinated project events

Key Players: 826 Valencia and Bethany Senior Center

The Story: Over the years I’ve worked with kids at 826 Valencia, a writing and tutoring center, giving workshops on topics such as writing Madlibs. When the opportunity arose to do a window display for the pirate supply store that fronts 826 Valencia, I jumped at the chance.

Inspired by a chapter in a book on ocean currents, I decided the theme should be “message in a bottle”. The project began as a solo adventure where I crafted ceramic bottles and worked on the overall design. When I thought about the actual messages for the bottles, however, I wanted them to connect to viewers and feel authentic. This would be the crux, the narrative of the window. It wasn’t long before I decided to enlist 826 Valencia’s many aspiring writers to pen the messages for the bottles.

At the time I was also an artist in residence at Bethany Senior Center. When I told my art students at Bethany about the project, they were excited to be the recipients of the letters. With that, I started a penpal exchange between these two groups, very different in age, but sharing a lot of commonalities, like being first and second generation immigrants to the US and living in the same neighborhood. In all, roughly sixty kids and almost as many residents at Bethany were involved. Unlike many message-in-a-bottle exchanges, where the writer waits years, even a lifetime for a reply, this one culminated in an ice cream social after two rounds of letters were sent back and forth. New friendships were formed and with their approval and delight, many letters from the project were displayed as part of the message-in-a-bottle window.

As another piece of the project, I created a treasure hunt. After all, what is a message-in-a-bottle project without the joy of finding an actual bottle? Rather than being washed ashore, however, these bottles, five total, were hidden around the neighborhood. I worked with neighborhood organizations, such as the Community Music Center, to find secure and viewable places to hide the bottles. Clue sheets were available at 826 Valencia and families could sleuth around the Mission, looking for bottles. The bottles spelled out a message, a quote from one of my favorite artists: “Art is for Everyone – Ruth Asawa”. Participants who unraveled the message were put into a drawing to win prizes like a membership to the Exploratorium.

Story in slides:

Photos 1, 5, 6, 7 shot by Weber Shih


Presentation given to kids at 826 Valencia: