8ft Avocado Capstone Project – the beginning!

Welcome to the blog for my DU Capstone Project. For those of you that don’t know, a Capstone is like a Thesis. It’s my last big project to qualify for graduation for my Master of Art – Visual Arts and Design at the University of Denver. I completed the 17 page Capstone Proposal in May and am awaiting approval before moving forward. The Proposal is rather dry and not very conversational but if you’re interested, I’ve posted some of it below. To summarize, I decided I wanted to do a Public Art sculpture.

The Capstone will focus on how the location of the sculpture changes the environment around it. I chose to sculpt a 8′ x 4′ block of Polystyrene and after much thought decided it would be a Pop Art object. I wanted it to have the same quirky impact as Jeffrey Koons blue balloon dog. 

Some type of common and recognizable object that would be extremely out-of-place in a public outdoor setting. So, while making myself a sandwich one day I decided on an avocado half. The design would solve some of the structural issues I’d been struggling with like – how do I combat the stormy weather in Denver? A plump, low to the ground vegetable (or is it a fruit?) would be better than something tall and thin like say, a carrot or celery stick. That’s if we limit the discussion to produce. I’ll be adding post’s to this blog once or twice a week up to graduation on August 13 so stay tuned!

Here’s the excerpt from my proposal…

My Creative Capstone project will answer the question; “How can the placement of public art sculpture aesthetically change or enhance the environment around it?”

Scope of the Project:

This project will be a mixture of a creative work and reflective paper. For the creative work I plan to document the decision-making that goes into the creation of a temporary public art sculpture installation due to the fabrication process and location where it will reside. To create the piece, I will be sculpting an eight by four-foot block of polystyrene (Styrofoam) with a heated loop tool. I plan on a design of a large avocado sliced in half, inspired by the Pop Art balloon dog by Jeffery Koons and the gigantic blue trowel by Claes Oldenburg. I feel the contrast of a ridiculous eight foot avocado placed in a natural environment would be appropriate for the scope of the project.

To publish my process I will author a blog showing all phases of the project. I have spoken to Dan Jacobs, the University Museum Curator, to obtain permission to place the sculpture on the DU campus. Specifically, it will float in the pond by the Mary Reed building for a week and then be moved to the grassy mound between the Penrose Library and the Driscoll center. At both locations I will have a plaque with an explanation of the art and the study of place-making along with the URL address to access the blog for more information.

Proposed timeline:

June 1 Publish blog
June 3 Begin sculpting creative work with photo documentation and blog update
June 22 Paint sculpture – photo documentation and blog update
July 1 Transport and install art at Mary Reed pond location – photo documentation and blog update
July 8 Move and install art to Driscoll Center location – photo documentation and blog update
July 17 Complete and submit reflective paper – conclude blog


The written reflective portion of the project will use case studies of sculpture in other communities to prove my thesis statement. It will also include documentation of all phases of the production and planning of the creative work. In addition, the reflective paper will include observations of the aesthetic change to the environment due to the placement of the sculpture in each location.

Preliminary Literature Review:

        There is a large number of resources on the public art topic as it relates to place-making. To narrow it down, I chose to concentrate on contemporary works of sculpture from 1970 to 2010. With these parameters I was able to find several books at the Penrose Library.

        To begin my project, I thought it would be helpful to refer to

The artist’s guide to public art: how to find and win commissions by Lynn Basa (2008). Basa’s book is a guide to navigating government public art projects, submitting bids, fabricating the works and negotiating the contracts. She stresses the importance of public art on place-making and her book is available to help other artists become successful in Public Art. The foreword by Mary Jane Jacob states “Artworks in our environs enriched our lives and became a part of them signifying who we are today.” (ix)

After looking at Basa’s book on gaining Public Art commissions in America I think it will be beneficial to take a contrasting look at the system used in China. Contemporary public art in China: a photographic tour by John T. Young, (1999) is a very interesting resource that describes the government’s role in the selection, creation and training of artists in the public art specter. It details some of the pitfalls of placing all the decision-making power in one group of artists under government control. The contrast to an open forum for public art as we have in America is noteworthy.

 Rhona Warwick’s book, Arcade: artists and place-making (2006) goes into the subject with multiple examples and case studies of the extraordinary spaces created by public art. Matt Baker, an artist that created a renowned public art sculpture in Glasgow was credited with the following quote on page 147.

Others might define it as ‘public space’, we call it social space because public space tends to have echoes of civic grandeur. We are interested in how art can be a way of affecting social space. It might be a mechanism for people who live around or have an interest in that space to become involved in the future of it. Or we might take on the remit of looking at that space, what its future might be and what its past has been and in some way represent its identity back to the people who are around it.

Ronald Lee Fleming also refers to public art as “placemaking” and sees it as a way of creating an environment – either positive or negative. In his book The art of placemaking: interpreting community through public art and urban design (2007) he includes a collection of public art case studies. It uses examples to show the successful, versus the inappropriate way to place, and showcase the “place” with public art. This book emphasizes the goals and uses for public art into 4 categories which are: 1)Orientation, 2)Connection, 3)Animation, 4)Direction. Fleming feels that even great art should be in the proper context and placement to be the best influence on the environment.

A solid documentation of the influence of public art in a community environment can be found in James Rupp’s book on the public art in Seattle, Art in Seattle’s public places: an illustrated guide (1992). He says, “…the art in our public places provides an energy to the urban environment and counteracts the mundane concrete repetition surrounding it.” (pg. 16)

An example of how a community became involved in a public art movement can be seen in J. Doe: the artists, the project by C. Kelly Lohr, (2001) For the project, over 100 life-size androgynous fiberglass mannequins nicknamed “Does” were sponsored by businesses, decorated by artists and distributed throughout the city of Omaha. Organizing the community, artists and businesses for the project brought the entire city together to create the Does and then to travel from Doe to Doe throughout the city to see each one. The amount of interactivity this process fostered was amazing. This book implements a project very similar to what I propose in my Capstone project as the art is viewed and observed in multiple locations.

        Of all the resources I selected I found the two that deal with the influence public art has had after a negative situation to be the most powerful. I selected Art in Detroit public places by Dennis Alan Nawrocki, with Thomas J. Holleman. (1980). Nawrocki explains how the Detroit riots of 1967 nearly destroyed the city. The turmoil made a huge impact as a wake-up call to members of the art community to take more vigilant care of the existing public art. The situation inspired them to install more art throughout the city as a means to rejuvenate and rebuild a weakened morale after the crisis.

        Another example of how a difficult environment can be improved by the placement of public art was found in a wonderful book called Urban Toys by Nadim Karam & Atelier Hapsitus (2006.) Karam documents his creative development growing up in Lebanon and studying in Japan and his use of public art sculptures to help a war-torn country smile, laugh and heal. He’s nicknamed public art as Urban Toys, also used as the title of the book, and describes it with the following quote taken from pages 40 and 41.

Cities need to dream. They were built up slowly on thousands of dreams. Somewhere, cities should still dream. In a world full of wonders and danger, every moment is a marvelous, magical survival. Urban toys can move cities. They can make a city dream, and the city dreams.

        When I write the Capstone reflective paper I intend to include journal and periodical articles not yet resourced citing influences of some of the artists that have inspired me such as Claes Oldenburg, Richard Serra, Jeffrey Koons and Franz West. I have also been able to locate an article from the Iowa State Daily student newspaper from 1977 where a sculpture installation was placed on the campus in the middle of the night at quite the surprise of the students when they walked to class the next morning. This was actually my first exposure to a public art installation environment and helped me formulate the idea to create my own sculpture installation on the DU campus. I will also cite the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs website for anecdotal information on case studies like the DIA Jiménez Mustang sculpture.

Anticipated Challenges or problems with project:

There are some possible challenges to this project. The first obstacle might be the cost and production process of the sculpture. My initial vision, inspired by the sculpture in my dream last fall, was fashioned to look like a very large tangled knot made from liquid foam insulation molded through twisted ductwork tubing. Because of the expenses of this process I have decided to work with the sculpting of a large block of polystyrene instead. Although I plan to test the material I may run into obstacles due to the fact that I have never dealt with this material before. This process fits into my maximum $500 budget.

My initial plan from the dream provided for the abstract sculpture to be decorated by the public – preferably the children of a Youth Arts organization. Because of difficulties of working with a children’s group, along with the added need to involve the IRB process I decided to delete the part of the project that would include children.

Timing could be an additional challenging factor. I have proposed July 1 as the first installation date on the DU campus. I feel the sculpture can be created in this timeframe however there is always a possibility that I may run into design and construction obstacles. From my discussion with Dan Jacobs I feel that the July 1 date is flexible if I need to make an adjustment.

Transportation and installation of the sculpture could propose special issues to consider as well. At this point I plan to create a pedestal for the sculpture that can tether to the sides of the pond or into the lawn with stakes in the same way used to set up information tents on campus. As for transportation, I believe the sculpture will fit into my husband’s truck. However, for fun and entertainment value on the blog I am exploring the possibilities of shrink wrapping it to the top of my car that’s about the size of the Volkswagen Beetle. Although it would make an interesting photo opportunity this idea could be abandoned easily if not feasible.

Possible project outcomes or anticipated results for project:

The Capstone research will provide a compelling case for the importance of placement of public art sculpture to create successful place-making. The ideal outcome of the Capstone project is to have the opportunity to observe the positive or negative aesthetic changes because of the placement of the sculpture to the DU campus. There will not be any permanent physical changes to the environments in which the sculpture is placed temporarily. It is irrelevant if the sculpture is liked or disliked; instead, it is important to show the difference in how the sculpture aesthetically changes or enhances the environment in which it resides.


Basa, Lynn. 2008. The artist’s guide to public art: how to find and win commissions; foreword by Mary Jane Jacob, with Barbara T. Hoffman. New York : Allworth Press.

Fleming, Ronald L. 2007. The art of placemaking: interpreting community through public art and urban design. London; New York: Merrell.

Karam, Nadim and Atelier Hapsitus. 2006. Urban toys. Edited by Kaya Mussack and designed by Alfred Tarazi. London: Booth-Clibborn, 2006.

Lohr, C. Kelly. 2001. J. Doe: the artists, the project. Omaha, NE: J. Doe Project Committee.

Nawrocki, Dennis Alan. 1980. Art in Detroit public places, with Thomas J. Holleman. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Rupp, James M. 1992. Art in Seattle’s public places: an illustrated guide. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Warwick, Rhona. 2006. Arcade: artists and place-making. London: Black Dog.

Young, John T. 1999. Contemporary public art in China: a photographic tour. Seattle: University of Washington Press.


Capstone Project – Temporary Art Installation on DU Campus

Terrie Taziri – 303-683-7994, terrie.taziri@comcast.net

Master of Art and Liberal Studies, Visual Art and Design

Capstone Advisor: Judith Cassel-Mamet

Project description

As part of my creative capstone project for graduation in Summer 2010 I propose to place a temporary sculpture installation on the DU Campus.  

Sculpture specifications

The art is planned be in the tradition of pop art along the lines of Jeffrey Koons’ balloon dog or Claes Oldenburg’s blue trowel. It’s planned to be an 8 foot avocado half carved out of a block of Polystyrene and painted with acrylic paint. The concept of an avocado showing up in an environment that seems out-of-place will help to illustrate the premise of place-making in my Capstone research paper.



#1 location – Avocado will be installed on July 1 to float in the pond near the Mary Reed building for up to 1 week. Art is waterproof and will be on a small platform of the same Polystyrene material which is commonly used as dock flotation and is environment friendly. It can either be weighted from the bottom of the pond or tied to the sides.

#2 location – Sculpture would be placed on July 8 on the grass area between the Penrose Library and the Driscoll Center for up to 1 week. It would be tethered similar to the method used for setting up a tent.

Cost, Liability & Responsibilities

I would bear all costs and the responsibility for fabrication, decoration, transportation, installation and removal. The University would not be held responsible for any damage, vandalism or theft. In the same good faith I would not assume responsibility if for any reason the sculpture caused injury to anyone while placed on the campus. (Can’t imagine how it could hurt anyone but thought I’d mention it.)

Capstone project description

The project is titled: A Study of Public Art on Place-Making and will explore how  the placement of Public Art can change or enhance the environment around it.


I plan to document the decision-making that goes into the creation of a temporary Public Art installation due to the fabrication process and location where it will reside. I’ll author a blog showing all phases of the project and the reaction to the art on the DU campus. The creative work and documentation will be accompanied by a research paper exploring how placement can change or enhance the environment of where it resides. (Using examples such as the Mustang at the airport or Richard Serra’s controversial Titled Arc sculpture and why these pieces and placement of the pieces are criticized.)


12 Responses to “8ft Avocado Capstone Project – the beginning!”

  1. Rob Walker Says:

    How much guac are you going to get from this and when do the margs start to flow. I’ll bring the chips. Way to go. Can’t wait to see the final product.

  2. Gloria Johnson Says:

    Wow, Terrie! I didn’t realize how creative you were…didn’t get to see this side of you, I guess when we were just making flyers, brochures, etc.

    Can’t wait to see the final product1

  3. Jim Honiotes Says:

    Terrie- what an great project for you! It’s looking good! Can’t wait to the end!

  4. Jeff, Silvia and Allen Says:


    The avocado looks fantastic, very realistic. Congratulations and we are happy to see that all of your hard word was worth it. We really wish avocados were that big, it looks great in all display areas.

  5. Adrienne Says:

    Terrie, Although I cannot get to the university to see it in person, I wanted to let you know of my reaction seeing the photo. It is totally unexpected, which in my opinion is a good thing. The contrast of the modern art with the older brick building as the back drop and the water fountain came together in a very pleasing manner. It makes you stop and take in the entire surrounding. I like something that feels out of place yet brings you back to the place that you’re in. Exciting! Good luck

  6. Dan Price Says:


    I love the project and am amazed by what you have done with it.

  7. Jim Honiotes Says:

    I don’t know much about public art (okay, I don’t know anything!) so take my comments with dash of salt (and squirt of lime). First – it sure looks realistic… so kudos to the artist for her skill. Second, the fact that it’s floating in a pond is crazy funny. I am sure it will evoke numerous WTF?’s as people cruise by. So if the purpose is to shake people out of their humdrum, numbed out existence, I’ll bet it will do the trick!
    I think you could sell this to the California Avocado Growers association when DU is done with it. (Either them or the Doritos people).

  8. Leslie Fields Says:

    Terrie –
    Congrats on your achievement. I absolutely love it! I wish I could see it on person but I really liked reading your blog and seeing the ned results. As a big avocado fan it really makes me hhungry for guacamole! Congrats again,

  9. Khristy Spaeth Says:

    Ole!! I love it, it looks great on the lawn now…almost like it grew there? Congrats on all your hard work and it was great watching the video and seeing you and Uncle Wayne as it has been too long.

  10. Richard Chapman Says:

    I love the avacado. It’s a bright, upbeat and happy addition to the campus green. And, as we all know, it’s not easy being green. Nice job!

  11. Lynne Krause Says:

    Love, Love, Love, Avo Maria! I think she needs to make a trip to

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