By Suzy Kridner
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Tory Tepp is one artist who doesn't mind getting his hands dirty.
As the Atlantic Center for the Arts Community Artist-in-Residence, he is working on two projects in the city, both involving dirt and plants, and engaging students and adults in the fun.
Mr. Tepp, an installation artist who specializes in earthworks, is spending four months living and working at Harris House as the ACA's first Community Artist-in-Residence.
Ren Morrison, Atlantic Center's Community Outreach Manager, said during an interview last week the choice of Mr. Tepp and his work with the environment fits the vision of ACA's founder Doris Leeper. It is significant he is here as the ACA celebrates its 35th anniversary.
A Doris Leeper quote hanging at the Harris House, "Art today is anything that is exciting and somebody's creative idea," sums up the evolving projects by the Mr. Tepp with the help of the community.
"I feel like I belong in this community," Mr. Tepp said.
"The whole point of the project is to engage the community," Mr. Morrison said. "The community becomes a partner in the project."
Mr. Tepp has had cooperation from New Smyrna Beach High School administration and teachers and various classes there for a project to transform the school's courtyard into a place where students can sit outside on an earthwork berm made of soil and sod and enjoy the weather.
"We have permission to go through the end of the school year," Mr. Tepp said. "In the spring we can focus on designing what we plant including produce and herbs for various dishes."
That's why the culinary students are involved as well as art, special needs, agricultural and geography students.
"The cross-curricular connections the project provides are just one of the many things that make this project so special," the artist said.
Last week students were busy moving from planting seeds in the staging beds to designing and preparing the courtyard planter for the seedlings and pathways. The school's courtyard is fairly bleak with little more than concrete to look at and sit upon.
Armed with feedback from the students, he came up with an initial concept of creating a garden (predominately of edibles) in one of the sparsely vegetated planters. It will spill out over the edge of the planter and into an area where there would be a few earthwork spaces where students could sit, relax, interact and take refuge in a space they helped design and create.
The tabletop is finished, Mr. Tepp said, but students still need to install tile on it. A dragonfly will be formed of steel by the artist and fabric on the wings will provide shade.
A second project, "Stargazer Fair," is a complex piece on a vacant lot on Samms Avenue at Julia Street, across from New Smyrna Beach City Hall. The project will feature a 52-foot-long ship form that will serve as a public gathering space.
Initially proposed as a temporary piece, the work will now remain and continue to grow for the next two years, Mr. Tepp said, thanks to the encouragement and involvement of the city government and community partners. Free opening receptions for the installation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, at the site.
It will include a winter solstice celebration with harvesting, tasting and meditating.
The earthwork will serve as a public space to engage and bring people together.
"The great thing about the project is that it will be the work of the community, and everyone is encouraged to participate in making it all happen." Mr. Morrison said.
The Stargazer sketch represents the center element of the project surrounded by 13 constellations. The ship form will be a public gathering space offering multiple levels of seating around a central space.
Mr. Morrison said they are seeking 13 partners for the "Stargazer Fair" and already have about eight.
Looking at the site last week, Mr. Tepp said it's going to take a lot of dirt, and other supplies to complete the project.
"It starts from nothing, grows and eventually goes back to seed," he said.
"While it's here, we'll make the most of it."
"Having this gift of land is a godsend," Mr. Tepp said. "It's really generous of the city."
Residents can come to the area from 2 to 6 p.m. every day except Sunday, and help with moving and tamping dirt, planting and sowing wildflowers.
"It all started with seed seven weeks ago and now there are morning glories blooming," he said.
The yard around Harris House has flowers and vegetables growing in flats for eventual transplanting to the two projects.
The plants include aloe from his mother's garden in Palatka and winter crops, such as beets, carrots, spinach, various kinds of squash, greens, lettuce, and red and green bok choi.
He's also sowing four pounds of native wildflowers to mingle in the design.
Mr. Tepp, who has a master of fine arts in public practice from Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, said he did his first community residency in New Orleans and now goes from project to project as an itinerant artist.
He also has a bachelor's in fine arts from Parsons the new School for Design in New York.
In New Orleans, Mr. Tepp worked on "The Fundred Dollar Bill Project," a community outreach project to raise funding and awareness of lead contaminated soil in New Orleans. Information on that project can be found at www.fundred.org.
For more information, call Mr. Morrison at (386) 423-1753, ext. 11, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or e-mail Mr. Tepp at email@example.com.