The 16th and Mission BART Plaza received a holiday gift this week: an aluminum ping-pong table — for the people.
The table mysteriously appeared on Friday, and the only clue to its appearance was a hashtag: #thepeoplestable.
Through a bit of digging, Mission Local learned that this was actually the work of Galen Maloney, 41, and four other artists who began the project in 2015. “We’re trying to activate an area that hasn’t had a lot of love,” he said.
Maloney, a case manager at Larkin Street Youth Services, said his project’s ultimate goal is to promote public health, interaction among the plaza’s denizens, and to brighten up the plaza. “It lets people know it’s something they can be proud of,” said the North Beach native. He says he received “verbal approval” from BART to place his table on the plaza.
His work dropping ping-pong tables throughout the city began at Sixth and Market in 2015, when the group was selected to do a public art piece for the Market Street Prototype Festival. Their open-air ping-pong table was such a success that they built two more, which they deposited in various San Francisco locations, including Glen Park and Boeddeker Park.
The tables were designed and built by artist and San Francisco native Dominic Fontana, whose oeuvre, dubbed Taped Metal Canvas, features art that combines galvanized steel and “tape, stickers and anything adhesive.”
The table at 16th Street Plaza was previously installed at Glen Park. But it had to be reinforced with a special coating for the new conditions. Maloney said he’ll be monitoring the table for the next few days “to see how it goes.”
“The first few days show how it’s gonna be,” he said. “Someone could try and walk away with it or put in a truck. Someone could disrespect it with graffiti.”
Bevan Dufty, the BART board member who oversees 16th Street Plaza, noticed it this afternoon.
“I saw the ping-pong table, saw young people using the ping-pong table — and thought it looked great,” he said.
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Dufty said BART has not officially sanctioned it, but he doesn’t think the transit agency will actively take steps to remove it. “So far, so good,” he said.
The former District 8 supervisor said he caught wind of some concerns that the table was installed instead of more benches, but he stressed that more benches will be coming soon, as fewer benches have — so far — replaced the number that had existed before the plaza was renovated. A “new style” of benches are coming,” he said.
“If anyone has a concern, I’m totally open to a walkthrough with anyone who wants to talk about seating,” he said. “This is a community station and I’m doing the best I can to make it better.”
Eric Rodenbeck, a local architect who has advocated for making the plaza active and accessible for everyone, also endorsed the table. “From what I can tell, it is a beautiful use of the space, and free and fun for everyone,” he said.
Baraka Aly, 21, was playing with her friend Oscar Friday evening as the sun was beginning to set (the paddles and balls are provided). She said they were just finishing some holiday shopping when they noticed it. She was skeptical at first.
“I was like, ‘Now they’re going to activate the space to get rid of the homeless,’” she said. She noted that around this time last year, San Francisco Public Works inserted boulders under “the Hairball” on Potrero to keep people from camping there.
But she soon realized the table was for everyone. “It’s better than heavy rocks,” she said.
Many of the folks hanging out at the plaza said it was a welcome addition. “It gives us something to do,” said a homeless man named Jay, who said he often spends time at the plaza. “It shows that people care — that God works in mysterious ways.”
A man named Shorty said he visits the plaza seven days a week. “I would like it to stick around,” he said, nothing that ping-pong is a game of “focus” and thinks that’s healthy. “It helps me.”
Maloney said he hopes the ping-pong table will stay there for the next month and, if successful, he hopes he and his group will be commissioned to do another at the BART plaza across the intersection. “The more ping-pong,” he said, “the merrier.”