Cornelius 'pop-up plaza' stands as healing space with public art
Sarah Birkle says the decision to create a new community gathering place in Cornelius during the coronavirus pandemic wasn't an easy one.
Birkle has been working with the city government since fall 2019 as part of a one-year AmeriCorps internship to create a so-called "pop-up plaza". The pop-up plaza, called La Placita, opened to the public on July 10 at North 12th Avenue and Adair Street. It will remain in place through August.
A long-vacant gravel lot now features donated flowers and colorfully painted tables and chairs spaced widely apart to promote coronavirus social distancing guidelines. It also features fences designed to give people a sense of separation from the nearby busy highway, Birkle said.
Several chalkboards provide people, especially kids, with an opportunity to create public art, she said. People must bring their own chalk, but they can pick it up a few blocks away on Fridays through a partnership with the new Cornelius Farmers Market.
Local artist Arturo Villasenor agreed to paint a mural of a butterfly at the front of the pop-up plaza.
Multiple food trucks were stationed at the pop-up plaza on its opening day, and Birkle says people should expect them to continue to be open.
Dr. Bob Bullard, who owns the lot and the Cornelius Veterinary Clinic nearby, is providing the space temporarily for the project.
The city has long lacked a colorful, inviting public space that reflects Cornelius' diversity, Birkle said.
"I was hearing a lot from teenagers and people who grew up in the area that there weren't a lot of places in town where they could go," Birkle said. "A lot of them were saying they would just hang out in parking lots."
Working with the city, business owners and community organizations, Birkle said the idea was to create a space located close to the center of town where the community could gather outside surrounded by art.
"That was the idea before the coronavirus hit," Birkle said, adding that once the outbreak began, she questioned whether the project could go forward.
But Birkle and other city officials realized they could continue the project as long as it promoted social distancing.
Birkle says the pop-up plaza has taken on an added importance for the community, which now has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections in the state. She said the pop-up plaza stands as a community healing space now, too.
"We have all been affected by this in some way, some more than others," Birkle said. "Spaces like these do have the ability to heal, whether people stop to look at the art on their way to work or take the time to draw something."
People who purchase hot food from vendors at the farmers market are encouraged to eat it a the pop-up plaza to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19 at the market.
Twice each day, Birkle comes out to sanitize the tables and chairs, which were painted by volunteers and constructed using recycled materials from Washington County and the Forst Grove Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
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