A Tree Is Guarded In Brooklyn, And You Can Design Your Own

Tree-Guard-Fall

Ever wanted to design your own tree guard? Well, look no further than Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill and Fort Greene neighborhoods, because you’re in luck. The Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership recently announced an open call for artists of all experience levels to submit custom designs to potentially be made into tree guards to be installed along Myrtle Avenue in spring of 2016.

But hold on, what’s a tree guard? They may sound a bit intimidating at first (in fact, when you Google “tree guard” the first result is a wiki entry of a tree monster from a video game, but that’s an article for another day), but they’re really quite nice and important.

Tree guards are the metal fences surrounding trees planted on sidewalks. They’re designed to protect trees in urban environments, preventing pedestrians from trodding on their soil, discouraging dogs from making them into a bathroom, and warding off bikes from getting locked to trunks. There’s even a petition on the Brooklyn Borough President’s website calling for tree guards to be installed on all trees in the borough (currently they’re only required to be around “newly-planted” trees.) You may not have noticed them much, or perhaps used one to prop your foot on while you tied your shoe.

Typically, they are rather ordinary-looking, but Clinton Hill and Fort Greene’s Myrtle Avenue specifically is home to many custom laser-cut tree guards, which add community arts engagement and an artistic flair to these practical objects.

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This tree guard design initiative is part of beautification and quality of life improvement efforts on the part of the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership, which consists of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District and the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project LDC. There are currently 40 benches and 47 guards installed on Myrtle (the first of them appeared in 2011) featuring designs by anyone from local artists to K-12 students.

The open call’s prompt is to create a design inspired by the life or work by one of the multitude of artists who have called Fort Greene/Clinton Hill their home, or who have spent significant amounts of time there. While you’ll read endless blog posts about intriguing creative types Williamsburg and Bushwick (which has a Myrtle Avenue of its own) lately, it’s important to not dwell too much on the Current Trendy Thing and note that significant cultural figures have inhabited this particular portion of Brooklyn throughout history. Indeed, musician and writer Patti Smith and famed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe moved into their first New York apartment together on Hall Street right off Myrtle in 1960, and filmmaker Spike Lee grew up in Fort Greene and established his production company there in 1986.

This is just a sampling of the culture to inspire oneself with, but the folks at the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership have encouraged interested artists to do their own research and find a unique artistic figure to craft their guard around. They link to their Myrtle Ave Black Artstory walking tour podcast as one such resource, which is a self-guided audio tour highlighting the work of several significant black artists from the neighborhood, including author Richard Wright, 1950s blues-soul musician Little Anthony, and painter Emilio Cruz.

Interested artists can submit their designs using the provided Adobe Illustrator template to hello@myrtleavenue.org by Tuesday, January 5, 2016. Up to 10 designs will be accepted, and a stipend of $50 will be granted to selected artists. Further guidelines available here.

[Photos via]