West Palm’s ‘tops’ fade, but a new interactive art is coming to Clematis

Feb 26, 2018
Artwork graveyard: The once spinning ‘tops,’ carousels known as Los Trompos, sit motionless at a city equipment yard next to the Storm of ‘28 mass grave. (Tony Doris / The Palm Beach Post)

Some art lives forever. “Los Trompos” wasn’t that kind of art.

The colorful big tops, carousels that drew crowds to the waterfront in the summer of 2016 and later to city parks, now sit unattended in a dusty and desolate equipment lot, next to the Hurricane of 1928 mass grave site, victims not of a storm but of their popularity. They’ve lost their color and their spin.

Unable to reach the Mexican artists who sold them to the city for $74,000 two years ago, officials are considering their next moves.

On another front, though, good news: More interactive public art is on order, from the Canadian artists who brought the popular Musical Swings installation to Clematis Street in February 2016. The art consisted of a row of 10 swings that turned the motion into tones and harmonies.

The new installation will be on Quadrille Boulevard, next to the new Brightline tracks, between Fern Street and Clematis. What it is, has yet to be determined. Art troupe Daily Tous Les Jours will travel to West Palm Beach, possibly starting in late March, to study the location and interview passers-by and other residents, and then to arrive at a design based on their sense of the place. The project is named Play Sidewalk.

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The artists have been instructed not to think of it as creating a destination, said Sybille Welter, coordinator of the city’s Art in Public Places program. “It’s more about Quadrille being the spine of the downtown area, so, how do you get from Point A to Point B to C and D and make it attractive. It’s not so much, ‘everybody’s got to come to this,’ as about making that pathway an interesting experience.”

The project will cost about $225,000, with $125,000 of that coming from a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties. The rest will come from the Art in Public Places fund, money contributed by developers.

According to Welter, the community engagement and conceptualizing the project will take two months, followed by two months design work and two of fabrication. The shipping and installation will start seven months into the process.

Swings attracted 34K visitors for Clematis

The group’s Musical Swings project was set up in a vacant lot on the 500 block of Clematis Street, opposite O’Shea’s Irish Pub. It attracted 34,000 visitors, with as many as 156 people swinging in a single hour. The city estimated that it increased foot traffic on the block by 56 percent and generated $768,000 in direct economic impacts downtown.

Los Trompos also drew big crowds. During the 20 tops’ placement on the waterfront Great Lawn, from June to August 2016, 180,000 people used the tops, the city estimated. The tops then were distributed to public parks around the city for four more months of heavy use.

“Then they became a safety issue and they went into storage,” Welter said. “They’re literally a victim of their own success. They were utilized all the time.”

The spinning mechanisms were so worn the tops were in danger of toppling. The colorful nylon straps that gave them their playful appearance lost their battle with the sun.

No one was hurt by a toppling top, but they had to be removed, Welter said. Artists Hector Esrawe and Ignacio Dadena, of Mexico City, have not responded to her inquiries about repairing the tops. They did not respond to an email from The Palm Beach Post on Friday.

West Palm paid $74,000 to buy the tops, used, and another $26,000 to transport them from Houston, provide security and maintain them.

Despite the problems with wear and tear, the project was a hit and that’s not just spin. “It was a success,” Welter said. “It was loved. It was very, very, very used.”