A giant "NO DANCING" sign will be installed on JFK Promenade in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park next week, just across the pedestrianized roadway from the daily roller disco at Skatin’ Place.
Don’t be fooled by the message. Passersby are encouraged to flout the rules and shake their tail feathers to their heart’s content.
Made from recycled billboard vinyl, each of the eight red letters is 12 feet tall, and they’re set on a steel structure 8 feet above the ground—meaning the entire thing will stand 20 feet high and run for 115 feet when it’s completed, likely by Oct. 28. It’s a project from Looking Up Arts, which had installed the sign on the playa for Burning Man this year, much to the delight of people who really like to dance in front of letters that weigh anywhere between 850 and 1,400 pounds.
“The kind of twist is it’s a two-layer piece,” said Looking Up co-founder Cody Smith. “The outer layer you can see from far away, and people think it’s cheeky that someone would tell you not to dance. Then you look closer, and there’s the story of someone’s life who’s been affected by rules of oppression: banished, expelled, incarcerated, outcast.”
That’s the inner layer, nine brief stories of individuals, some from San Francisco, that can only be read up close. Smith, who is “N1”—meaning the N in “NO,” as there are two other N’s—says the team went for as wide a range of people as they could.
The O is a testament to overcoming obsessive-compulsive disorder. The A was an ex-Mormon woman who turned to dance when the church would not provide solace as her marriage failed. The G is from a lesbian who had a difficult coming-out, and queer couples would cluster around it in Black Rock City, dancing together.
Smith’s hope is that these stories are potent enough to touch hearts and, along with the height, dissuade any would-be taggers. But he’s got degreaser ready, just in case.
Tamara Aparton, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, confirmed that "NO DANCING" is sanctioned by the city, as the latest component of JFK Drive’s Golden Mile, which for the last year has had Doggie Diner heads, pianos and yellow Adirondack chairs sprinkled throughout a section of the park.
The Golden Mile, in turn, was a project from Illuminate, the San Francisco nonprofit arts organization that’s mounted large-scale works like Market Street’s Pride Month rainbow lasers and the now-dark Bay Lights. Wizards at getting permission from the city to do ambitious stuff, Illuminate and its leader Ben Davis helped fund some of the labor, with volunteers covering much of the rest.
“Illuminate championed the vision for bringing it onto JFK Promenade, aka the Golden Mile, across from the Skatin’ Place,” Davis told The Standard.
In the meantime, the letters are labor-intensive to install, having gotten rusty at the Burn. As they’ll be in place for at least a year, fastening them to the steel requires pulling them tight, like a corset.
“We had to get a proper layer of Rust-Oleum put on the metal before we stretched the billboard vinyl back over the frame,” Smith said. “The lacing goes through fingers, like paper dolls that wrap on the edge. It takes many hours of work.”
Astrid Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org