written by:
photos by:
April 27, 2009
Originally published in Time for a Change?

Sam Yates will paint the town Palo Alto, once he figures out what color that is.

After the project is completed, Palo Alto might have a different curb appeal: Yates eagerly anticipates that locals will repaint their homes, furnishings, and assorted objects in the Color of Palo Alto.
After the project is completed, Palo Alto might have a different curb appeal: Yates eagerly anticipates that locals will repaint their homes, furnishings, and assorted objects in the Color of Palo Alto.
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After the project is completed, Palo Alto might have a different curb appeal: Yates eagerly anticipates that locals will repaint their homes, furnishings, and assorted objects in the Color of Palo Alto.
After the project is completed, Palo Alto might have a different curb appeal: Yates eagerly anticipates that locals will repaint their homes, furnishings, and assorted objects in the Color of Palo Alto.

Some artists thrive on keeping viewers at arm’s length, confounding museum patrons with their work. Samuel Yates, by contrast, delights in making meticulously detailed projects that demand audience participation. “I create sculptures that revolve around narratives and performances,” he explains.

So when the city of Palo Alto, California, invited Yates to create a temporary installation for their city hall plaza, he was immediately hooked. Staring at a map of Palo Alto, a well-manicured suburban community, he asked, “How can I take the concept of a public art project to its logical conclusion and involve every single member of that public?”

After reading that the late industrialist Henry J. Kaiser had created “the color of Rome” to sate his wife’s demands for an Italian paint job for their Hawaii estate, Yates was inspired to make “The Color of Palo Alto.” Over several months, he’ll photograph each of the city’s 20,000 parcels of land—homes, gas stations, businesses, and supermarkets—and merge the digital images into one color to represent Palo Alto’s average hue.

The photos will be displayed this summer on 100-foot-high-by-3-foot-wide semi-transparent panels arrayed on the city hall façade. The color of Palo Alto—which Yates predicts to be a “blue-gray-green of some sort”—will be available at Palo Alto Hardware.

The artwork has multiple layers of what Yates calls the “public-ness of the project.” To promote environmentalism, he motors around town taking pictures from his electric scooter then downloads the images in a solar-powered garage made from recycled and salvaged materials that sits in front of city hall. Locals will benefit from the donation of the photos to the city’s historical association, as well as integration of the photos within the city’s 911 system.

These images are only the beginning of what Yates envisions as a broad-reaching public service announcement. “It’s not just about taking photos,” he states adamantly. “It’s about involving the entire city as an art project, and seeing what the possibilities are.”

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