Large parts of the Cooper House had fallen onto the park during the quake, and the demolition equipment had crushed and torn up anything that was left standing. We now walked up to the chain link fence and stood there silently assessing the damage, taking in each shattered park bench and broken tree. My daughter was five; it took her a long minute to reconcile what she was seeing with what was no longer there. At the moment of recognition and loss, she erupted in tears and sobs. She was inconsolable.
It took everyone here a while to understand. They came downtown to hook their fingers in the chain link and remember places and experiences that they had once taken so pleasantly for granted. People are local to the extent that they can take a place for granted, and these people had lost much of their locality. These dirty messy ruins were not so much pathetic souvenirs of a beloved downtown as they were disheartening reminders that even places can come and go.
But Brion saw art as a bridge from ruination to reconstruction. He grabbed someone’s nonprofit status and founded an Emergency Aesthetic Relief Agency, recruiting artists to devise installations that would transform exposed basements and empty storefronts into provocations or inspirations.
As beautiful, annoying or stimulating as an art exhibit may be, people understand that it is temporary. Something else will take its place. It didn’t take long for the Pacific Avenue art installations to deteriorate, dissolve or dysfunction. But by then people were ready to begin anticipating the next show, the next downtown.