Transforming Eakins Oval into kaleidoscope of color for third summer of fun [photos]

By Wednesday, the parking lot on one end of the Parkway in Philadelphia will have been transformed into a temporary pop-up park, The Oval, for the third summer in a row.

The Oval is really Eakins Oval, the traffic circle in front of the Art Museum of Philadelphia. For three summers running, the entire parking lot inside has been transformed into a beach, then a magic carpet, and now a kaleidoscope.

The city’s Mural Arts Program imported artists Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn from Baltimore to design the horizontal mural, painted directly onto the asphalt, with interlocking shapes that create play spaces.

“This whole entire mural is symmetrical. It’s off the middle line, off the center of the parking lot, and it folds out like a butterfly,” said Unterhalter. “But no one can really see that unless you’re above, you know?”

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As in years past, the Oval will be programmed with sand boxes, pingpong tables, and a splash garden, along with movie screenings, concerts and food trucks.

An adjacent beer garden, designed by the landscape architectural group Gale Nurseries, will be furnished with 4,200 recycled plastic crates used to transport daffodil bulbs.

Over the last several years, Gale has planted 1 million daffodils in Bucks County as part of its Bucks Beautiful initiative. Designer Brian Dragon repurposed thousands of crates as upholstered lawn furniture – tables, benches, couches, and planters.

“They were just stored between our two Agway building about 15 feet high,” said Dragon. “We couldn’t’ even see all of them because they were between two buildings.”

The Oval began as a three-year experiment in creating a temporary park on a major thoroughfare. As its final season begins, confidence is high that it will continue.

“What we’ve learned is, build it and they will come,” said Mark Focht, first deputy commissioner with the city Department of Parks and Recreation. “We had 35,000 the first year, over 80,000 people – more than double – last year.

“This year, we’re adding an additional week – we’re doing six weeks instead of five weeks. I think we’ve proven the thesis that if we do family-friendly programming, people will come from the adjacent neighborhoods, and from all over the city,” he said

This year’s Oval cost $300,000 to construct and program, a sum that’s cost effective, said Focht, considering the public benefit. The future of the park depends on the next administration in City Hall.

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