Drivers coming into San Francisco where the 101 and 280 freeways merge have been greeted for the past few days by shimmering 12-foot-tall letters spelling out the word, “DREAM.”
“You’re met with this word, and it’s almost like this welcome mat. It looks like reflections on water or the grass moving,” said Ana Teresa Fernández, the artist behind the piece.
Fernández had been commuting by car for years between her Bernal Heights home and her Bayview studio, and each day would pass a semi-hidden aesthetic marvel: A building completely covered in someone’s graffiti tag, “Dream.”
“I would drive by it every day, and would look up and see it, and was like, wow, Dream. It made me have this moment … where I would kind of check in with myself,” she said. “I wish this just echoed and rumbled a little higher over the hillside.”
Fernández later learned that the maker of the wall of dreaming was an Oakland-based graffiti artist, Mike “Dream” Francisco, who was killed in an attempted robbery in 2000.
Five years ago, Fernández set out to elevate the message over the hillside for all to see.
Though Fernández always had immigrants in mind alongside the others she was encouraging to dream, the work is painfully timely now. The federal government recently announced that the documentation program for immigrants who were brought to the country as children, DACA, would be ended. That leaves thousands of immigrants who rely on this documentation to work, often called “Dreamers,” in a difficult and uncertain position.
“This piece is for them; this piece is for the Dreamers, and for us to question who is able to dream,” Fernández said.
By nature of its conception and construction, however, the piece is also made for and by its community members. Rebeka Rodriguez, Civic Engagement Manager at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, went to nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and Bessie Carmichael Elementary School and helped develop a program that drew students into the themes of the piece.
Through artist residencies at the school, artists developed multiple parallel curricula for students to explore the themes of the DREAM installation in architecture, theater poetry and music.
In one case, they were tasked with solving a problem through design work, while in another, a class developed a book of poems.
In the songwriting curriculum, students tackled the more difficult aspects of dreaming — they were writing the lyrics to a song called “Big Dreams” last fall, immediately after the election.
“The song is going to be about their dreams, but as they were writing the lyrics right after the election, it inevitably also included nightmares,” Rodriguez said.
Eventually, students were also offered the chance to participate in assembling the massive artwork, which spans more than 70 feet in width and includes about 1,000 shiny aluminum scales.
When students in an a capella group were working at Gizmo Art Productions, where the piece was fabricated, Fernández asked them to participate in a ritual: They sang their song to the installation as they assembled it, as an offering.
On Friday, the song “Big Dreams” will be performed by students at an unveiling ceremony for the piece. The piece has been installed on a city-owned piece of land on the hill above the Alemany Food Market to spark thought and conversation.
“As people are arriving, I think it’s really appropriate,” Rodriguez said. “Being able to curate this piece into existence and really design these residencies at the school and figure out how to incorporate mostly marginalized voices into a larger conversation feels really important.”
An unveiling ceremony will be held Friday, September 22 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Alemany Farmer’s Market.[check]