An Urban Forest Takes Root in Venice

Community

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY WEDNESDAY PHILANTHROPY EDITION WEDNESDAY MAY 16, 2018

It was a day like any other for the artist Bill Farnsworth, until Greg Vine and Phil Ellis stopped by. As chairman for the Venice Area Beautification, Inc. (VABI) Urban Forest Committee and past-president of VABI, respectively, the pair had come to enlist Farnsworth’s aid in a new project—to repurpose the near 26 acres of land between Venice Avenue and Circus bridges into a sprawling urban forest that could serve as haven for migratory birds and an escape for fellow Venetians. Taking them out back to his treehouse and mixing a few drinks, Farnsworth heard them out. “An appropriate place to kick off this idea,” he recalls thinking at the time. “Sitting in a tree like three birds.”

From VABI’s history with the Legacy Trail, Farnsworth knew that Vine, Ellis and the whole Urban Forest project were serious, and knew how to get things done. And hearing them talk about the project in the spirit of John Nolen, the architect and city planner who first envisioned Venice as a European-inspired charming getaway, full of green space and parks and promenades, Farnsworth knew the project had the city’s wellbeing at heart. The plan was set and the verbiage polished—what did they need Farnsworth for? Vision.

To convince county commissioners and others to back the plan, they needed someone who could do the imagining for them and show them the potential in full color. Farnsworth could do that. Taking a photograph of the proposed site (“Pretty rough.”), he first painted directly onto the image, creating an augmented reality, and possible future. From there, he let his own imagination run wild on canvas after canvas, using oil paint to conjure memories from an urban forest yet to be planted.

The ploy worked and the VABI Urban Forest project received funding for its first phase. Beginning May 11, the team has already completed more than 1000 feet of irrigation lines as they prep the land for planting. Now, the Urban Forest project kicks off another capital campaign, this time for the trees themselves. Over the next couple weeks, a few trees are expected to take root, but to make a real forest requires real money. Vine hopes for $5 million. “We can do a lesser forest with a lesser budget,” he says, “but with $5 million we can do something wonderful.”

Farnsworth thinks back to that treehouse in the backyard, and how he planted the yard full of trees as soon as he moved in. “That’s my sanctuary,” he says. “This can be a sanctuary for all people.”

To find more information about the VABI Urban Forest project, follow the link below.

Pictured: "Tara" by Bill Farnsworth. Image courtesy of the artist.

VABI Urban Forest Project

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