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How to turn your front yard into a socially distant gallery

Socially distant art gallery in West Philadelphia yard

The coronavirus quarantine inspired Emily Bunker and Daniel Tucker to create a gallery in their West Philadelphia front yard. (Courtesy of Emily Bunker and Daniel Tucker)

Like many people, we have seen our daily lives transformed in the service of physical distancing. Distancing and quarantine practices are without a doubt the ethically- and medically-appropriate response to the coronavirus pandemic, but that does not mean the cancellation and postponement of events, classes and gatherings hasn’t stung.

For us, and many people we know and care about working in the arts and culture sector, these activities provide a sense of community, and in some cases, a livelihood.

Beyond the questions of the calendar, there are shifts in how people communicate and interact that we are only beginning to understand. Our yard art gallery, YIMFY 2020 (Yes In My Front Yard) is our effort to begin to respond to those shifts. It’s a DIY solution. Here is how we did it in case you want to YIMFY too.

Pick your format

Artists have a long history of responding to the most challenging and urgent issues facing their moment, and this moment is no different.

In Philly, we’ve seen posters, face masks, floor decals, and endless social media campaigns, among other efforts. Art can help message urgent public health threats, and it can also help raise money at a time when many in our city, including many creators, are struggling economically. So when we heard that we’d be getting economic stimulus checks, we thought that we’d figure out ways to redistribute those funds since we have relative stability.

We wanted to support artists by sharing some funds, but also by promoting their work and ideas. Since physical distancing and changes in communication are making gatherings impossible and privileging digital images over physical ones, we went looking for an appropriate format to do this.

Daniel Tucker and Emily Bunker invited artists to make signs for display in their yard.
These yard signs, by artists Leigh Gallagher and Tyler Games, Malav Kanuga, Shira Walinsky, Li Sumpter, and Jenson Leonard, reflect on the current crisis moment. (Courtesy of Emily Bunker and Daniel Tucker)

Inspired by the familiar form of the yard-sign during political campaigns, this project takes up the form of the yard sign as a starting point to ask artists and writers we know to consider the intersecting political-environmental-economic-health crisis of the present moment.

Find your creators

The next step was figuring out which artists and writers we could reach out to on relatively short notice. They needed to be relevant, thoughtful and easy to work with. They also needed to be familiar with the site, since we couldn’t have them over for a meeting.

We ended up settling on a number of artists who had literally lived in the house we live in as tenants and roommates — which was easy as it has long been a house hospitable to makers and organizers since before we even lived here. The other artists are people whose graphic sensibility we admired and who lived nearby. There are scenarios where we do a second round of the project with a different array of contributors, but for this one, we wanted to start close to home.

So we commissioned them each to make a sign, they sent their PDFs and we ordered them from an online sign printer.

This YIMFY piece features a poem from local poet Thomas Devaney.
This sign by artist Lucia Thome features a poem from local poet Thomas Devaney. (Courtesy of Emily Bunker and Daniel Tucker)

Make it bigger than your yard

In addition to asking the contributors to make a sign, we also wanted to set up a mechanism where their work could be sold, either to benefit their ongoing work or to make a donation to our favorite neighborhood CDC, the People’s Emergency Center.

If you’re interested in sharing the work of these artists in your own space, you can support them and PEC by purchasing their signs on our website. Like a political campaign, we hope that these works by Philadelphia artists can be pitched in grassy nooks all over our fine city.

Alternately, maybe you have creative folks in your community or networks whose work you would like to support? This could be a great time to share their existing work with the world and give them some funds towards reprinting that work, or you could invite them to make new work. Feel free to email us at yimfy2020@gmail.com and we can share the printer we used, along with the pricing structure we set up that felt as accessible as possible to contribute to.

And if you don’t want to do any of this or don’t have the funds available for printing yard signs, we recommend this excellent mutual-aid resource page for volunteering your time and energy to a good cause.

#yardartneversleeps

As long as you come alone or in a small group, you are invited to come see the signs for yourself at 433 N. 41st Street. Take a picture and post it, tagging @yimfy2020 and #yimfy2020, and note that this gallery has no opening or closing hours because, as we are fond of saying, #yardartneversleeps !

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Emily Bunker works as a builder with a focus on fine woodworking, community design education and material research. While pursuing her master’s degree in landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, Emily continues to teach design/build workshops and fabricate custom furniture. She is the co-founder of YIMFY2020.

Daniel Tucker is an artist, writer and organizer developing documentaries, publications, exhibitions and events inspired by his interest in social movements and the people and places from which they emerge. He is the founding graduate program director in Socially-Engaged Art at Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia. He is the co-founder of YIMFY2020.

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