LA TIMES  January 12, 1995



Know those car alarm systems that talk? “Step away from the car,” a stern voice orders anyone who comes to close.

Now get ready for talking parking meters.

Only this is art, not a law enforcement device.  The project consists of 17 parking meters that have been wired for sound, with plans for 13 more.

When passersby drop in their change, the meters pipe up with spoken sentiments written by people with AIDS or by their friends and family members.

“I decided the metaphor of time and voices speaking and time running out was important,” said karen Atkinson, a Santa Monica artist and wrier who came up with the idea after the 1992 riots.

The proceeds will help artists with AIDS produce their work, she said.

Meters will be placed in museums, bookstores and other sites in Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Santa Monica. None will be installed on sidewalks.

Artweek- February 1995

Karen Atkinson’s ‘ For the Time Being,’ a public art project

Elizabeth Converse

When they came up after all the people with AIDS, I didn’t speak up because I’d never been tested. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up…

 Even though anybody could read a newspaper or turn on a TV set from 1983 to 1985 could gather that there was a problem in the medical blood supply, hemophiliacs were told to keep using the clotting factor as though there were no danger of AIDS. Each time they used it, they were exposed to the viruses from 500 to 2000 blood donors…

 Watching AIDS for eleven years and hearing story after story about acts of ignorance and hatred has penetrated me. Though not said to my face, of course, even my own sisters think AIDS is a punishment from God.

For the Time Being is a citywide installation of more than twenty altered parking meters wired for sound by artist/ curator Karen Atkinson. When coins are fed into them, tapes play stories written by writers and artists with HIV/AIDS and their friends and families. Twelve minutes elapse before the meters fall silent again.  Although the ambient noise in some of the locations can make the voices difficult to understand (Atkinson is currently upgrading the sound system), the poignancy of the issue burns in our conscience. Time is running out, as voice after voice continues to be silenced.

Why did Atkinson choose to undertake such a ponderous, even painful task? As themes of loss and abandonment play on, we wonder about the effectiveness of this dialogue. Will her effort enter the realm of cause and effect, altering the course of an ongoing crisis? As an educator and artist, Atkinson has known great personal loss among her colleagues and friends, and her personal desire is to break through the barriers that surround AIDS issues.  Hopefully, she says, the interactive aspect of the meter, an accessible public object, will engage people in the exercise of keeping the message alive.  With the simple, effortless act of feeding a coin, we keep the meter running. It is effective.

A talking parking meter is eerie, faintly humorous, and certainly educational. Money buys time, while the time keeps running out, and so, abruptly, the vices end. HIV/AIDS, the disease, is far from resolution.

We are funding AIDS research, but is it commensurate with the ravages of the disease? Plans for long- term installation have been made for the meters at Highways, and the Jan Baum and Robert Berman galleries.  The Glendale PTA plans to keep a meter rotating among the high schools. Monies fed to the meter are not wasted but contributed to a fund which supports artists with AIDS.

These are among the reasons we make art- to create, and to keep dialogue alive. Listen up. These running meters maintain a commitment as stories are told.  We can’t forget what we must keep repeating, over and over again. How much more time will we have to say it? How do we make people listen? Let us continue, even into the darkest hours, to keep the voices alive. More meter installations are in process and Atkinson welcomes contribution from writers on her themes. Keep on keeping on.

Los Angeles Times- OC Live! March 21, 1996


By Zan Dubin

Costa Mesa- It seems as out of place as bloodletting at a wedding. Well- heeled, apparently healthy shoppers in a corner of tony South Coast Plaza seem weighed down by nothing more than the bags they carry from the world’s most exclusive stores. Concerns? Whether to buy the Louis Vuitton purse or the Bulgari watch.

But an unusual artwork- in the form of a talking parking meter- is bringing the voice of AIDS to these consumers. Feed the meter a quarter and hear a man recounting his discovery that his partner has AIDS, and another man describing his lover’s funeral, and a third delivering a chilling refrain:

“There’s apprehension, everywhere, there’s a deadly virus in the air.”

 Families torn apart, the dying ostracized- hardly typical mall talk.  But artist Karen Atkinson’s “For the Time Being…” take in about $60 a month or artist with AIDS, more money than any of seven other such meters Atkinson has installed elsewhere. And those seven all are in Los Angeles County.

Despite Orange County’s reputation for political conservatism, not a single complaint has been registered against her work in the year that it has been here, according to Atkinson, all officials, and employees of l.a. Eyeworks, outside who door the meter stands.

On the contrary, said Jamie Tucker, an Eyeworks optician, the meter “gets jammed with too much change, and that’s when people get upset. “They’re like, ‘What’s wrong with the meter?’”

Atkinson, whose phone number is posted on the meter, remembers “one call from a gentlemen who thanked me for the project. He didn’t leave his name or number. He just said he was really moved by it.”

Heading toward Nordstrom the other afternoon, Myrna Ross stopped when the red meter caught her attention. “It’s a good idea,” the retired teacher from Manhattan beach said. “it reminds people.”

The meter takes in at least $10 more each month than the second most lucrative meter, at the Long beach Museum of Art, Atkinson said. She thinks its success has been because of, not in spite of, its location.

“It’s in a really, really well- traveled area, “ a place that is accessible more hours per day than, say, an office building, she said.

Atkinson installed 15 meters originally choosing locations not only according to how well- traveled they seemed but for their cultural and geographic differences.  ( the sites ranged from the Watts Department of Cultural Affairs_. She left it to the people at each site to decide how long to keep their meter. Of the seven no longer still out there, some have been returned and others are being refurbished.

The meters- real meters- were donated by a manufacturer. Artists and writers with HIV or AIDS, their friends and their families wrote and recorded material for the 12- minute tapes inside.

“I wanted to give people with AIDS a voice,” said Atkinson, who lives in Santa Monica and specializes in public art. “ I wanted then to speak for themselves. Often it’s everybody else who speaks for them.”

She describes some of the writings on the tapes (which are updated from time to time) as hard hitting, some as sad as humorous. “ But they are all very personalized, so it’s different from the usual media treatment.”

The trendy l.a. Eyeworks boutique has showcased contemporary art and has supported AIDS causes before. Its employees wanted to display the meter because “ we felt [AIDS] was a serious issue and you have to talk about it,” said Heather Adams, the store’s general manager.  “Silence doesn’t go very far.”

But the complete lack of grousing about the meter, which the store plans to display indefinitely, was surprising.  “ A couple of years back,” Adams notes, “ we did a window display called Safe Spex…We hung colored condoms and put eyeglasses in them, and we got a lot of negative reaction. Some people were like taking their kids and running away [ from the window]. They found it offensive.”

Adams noted that though the mall management received several complaints about Safe Spex, the store wasn’t asked to change it.

When the meter first was installed, she continued, the employees were told that no store in the mall is allowed to put anything outside its door. But the head of security took one look and fell for the artwork, Adams recalls: “ he said if we could get the volume down so its not quite so disruptive, he’d love to see it stay. Since then, no one has said anything. In fat, one of the security guards comes by and puts quarters in it.”

Maintenance workers, in the mall before it opens, also have been parting with change. “ We know,” said Eyeworks optician Jeff Schuster, “ because it’s playing when we [get her] at 9:30 a.m.”

La Weekly- Calendar June 16- June 22, 1995

Pro- Joyce

 Ellen Krout- Hasegawa

For the culturally gluttonous among us, days of binging and purging are about to begin. Start Friday at the Lannan Foundation’s Poetry Garden, where you’ll hear recordings of James Joyce’s Ulysses played all day. It’s an honor of Bloomsday, named for the one day (June 16, 1904) in protagonist Leopold Bloom’s life that’s covered in the book. By Sunday, you’ll be ready for “Common Ground: A Festival of New Writing for the Theater,” a week of free seminars, workshops and stage readings. This Aubrey Skirball- Kenis Theater- sponsored event features the best and the boldest that L.A. theater has to offer. Luis Alfaro, Robert Auletta, Cornerstone theater Company, Amy Hill, Julie Jensen, David Schweizer and Butane Group are but a few scheduled to show. And in between all the theatrics, squeeze in a Tuesday night reading by the writers and artists (Jill Ansell, Roberto Bedoya, Eric Priestly, Jordon Peimer, Julia Salazar, et al.) involved in Karen Atkinson’s For the Time Being project, a series of “talking” parking meters placed in public settings, citywide. Plunk in some change and you hear the recorded reflections of either PWA or the friends or family of someone with HIV/AIDS. Money collected from the meters goes to funding artwork by artist with AIDS. Phew, what a week. Even if you do end up gorging yourself to the point of bursting_ as in bursting into recitation of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake- you’ll die mad but happy.

The Foothill Leader Saturday March 11, 1995

Persuing art for art’s sake

Kirk A. Weiss

In Los Angeles city- funded art is not allowed to be simply art- it must address a social need.  This is the guiding principal of City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department and it is a flawed one.  With few notable exceptions ( the photos of Walker Evans and Lewis W. Hine to name two), Modern Art fails when used as an instrument of social change. 

This has not stopped the Cultural Affairs Department from pursuing this agenda. It has sponsored poetry readings to celebrate gang truces, conferences on Latino street vendors, plays to get the word out about AIDS, and instrumental programs that paired with Buddhist monks with kids in violence- prone South Central neighborhoods.  The problems the department addresses are important, but its methods are inane.

This is the current philosophy in city finding of the arts and since I don’t like to be reminded of my tax dollars going down the toilet, I give these projects a wide berth.  However, on a recent Sunday at the UCLA/ Hammer Museum, I all but tripped over one on the way to an exhibit.

The art entitled “ For the time being…” was outside the museum bookstore on the walkway that overlooks the atrium. It consisted of a parking meter mounted on top of a red wooden box.  There was a tape recorder in the wooden box.  After money was put in the meter the tape recorder played readings by artists who have AIDS and by friends , family members and other concerned people.  At the time I was there, listened to a woman’s wrenching story of her hemophiliac husband’s battle with both AIDS and the drug companies that gave him an HIV- tainted clotting factor.

A sign of the parking meter is the creation of Santa Monica artist Karen Atkinson who will install a total of 30 of these units. The recordings will change periodically and new ones will be added. The monies raised will be used by Santa Monica- based non- profit Side Street Projects to help artists who are HIV positive or have AIDS to fabricate their work.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Ms. Atkinson came up with the idea after the 1992 riots when she “decided the metaphor of time and voices speaking and time running out was important.”

At first, I was put off by the art.  The use of the parking meter- a notorious government instrument for annoyance and fund raising – seemed a weak vehicle to convey the tragedy of an artist’s demise from AIDS.  However, the more I considered the work, the more successful it was.  And if the higher purpose of this type of art is to make one think, the “For the Time Being” is a triumph.

As an admirer of 18th and 19th century literature, I’m familiar with the work of many artists who died young. John Keats and Jane Austen died prematurely from tuberculosis, as did Ann, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte. It is difficult to read these authors without wondering what they would have created had they lived longer.  Their work addressed issues involving all of humanity, instead of focusing on what was making them separate.

The judging criteria for a Cultural Affairs grants includes such categories as “cultural representation,” social/ educational merit” and the community’s “need” for the art. I was curious if Side Street projects would have similar criteria.

I called and spoke with Miss Atkinson.  Although Side Street projects is still formulating the grant guidelines, she assured me that the final criteria would not compel the artists to address social issues.  The monies are to have artists complete their oeuvre.

There is a great irony here; social- issue art may fund non- social- issue art. In a quirky sort of way the Cultural Affairs Department may actually help fund artists who – like Austen Keats and the Brontes- are not concerned with the government’s agenda, but rather choose their own topic and concerns. Hooray!

Of the many sites to see “ For the Time Being…”, the closest to the Foothills is the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena. Call 792- 5102 for hours. It may also be viewed and heard at Barnsdall Park in Hollywood and Plaza de la Raza in East Los Angeles.

For information about hosting a meter, making a donation, or providing material to be recorded call Karen Atkinson, (313) 829- 0779.

The Orange County Register- Accent- March 10, 1995

Fashion Notes-

Meters give voice to people running out of time

By Lisa Lytle


A quarter fed into this parking meter will get you 12 minutes. But it probably will be a thought- provoking dozen minutes as recorded messages play from writers and artists with HIV or AIDS, their family and friends.

Installed at L.A. Eyeworks in South Cost Plaza, the parking meter is part of “For the Time Being...,” a project developed by Los Angeles artist karen Atkinson.

The meter will carry two segments. One is a soliloquy about the price of silence,; he other is a woman’s story about how her hemophiliac husband contracted AIDS through contaminated blood supplies. 

The Blade- Focus July, 1995


By David S. Ethridge


  Take for example the work of Karen Atkinson. Her piece “ For the Time Being” is on display at the Huntington Beach Art Center. The work consists of parking meters_- Innocuous looking if nothing else. But these meters speak when fed coins.  Artists and writers with HIV/AIDS write the scripts for the tapes the meters play. The money collected from the meters goes to help support the work of artists with AIDS.

And, in an ironic way, the meters represent one other things that AIDS organizations have been increasingly having to deal with: when the money runs out, the meter is silent.

Weekend Independent September 3-4, 1994 Vol. 3 No. 34

Time Expired

 Jordon Peimer, a writer and artist from West Hollywood, is preparing to commemorate a friend from law school who died several years ago of AIDS. But he will not pay tribute with a tree of a plaque or flowers. 

 His friend’s story will be told by a parking meter.

 Thanks to a project that has received $15,000 in city funds and approval from West Hollywood arts authority, Peimer is participating in a citywide project aimed at raising money through parking meters placed across the city.

 When the project is complete, about 20 specifically designed parking meters will respond to the insertion of coins by playing a tape recording of voices of artists with AIDS. Peimer is one of about 40 writers whose poems and stories will e broadcast by the custom meters.

 The project is the brainchild of Santa Monica artist Karen Atkinson, who calls the work “For the Time Being.” Atkinson has already received a grant from the city of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department; now she’s hoping to secure further help from other cities.

 Atkinson says that parking meters are a surprisingly appropriate medium for dealing with a deadly virus in art.

 The parking meter is a measure of time and when the time runs out, the voices are silent,” she says. “It’s a kind of metaphor for the people we are losing.”

 All money collected by the meters will go toward a fund Atkinson has established to help artists living with HIV. The fund is intended to assist in the completion of work artists are unable to continue.

 The custom parking meters will not be on the street among the other working meters. While the idea of surprising motorists with recorded messages appeals to Atkinson, she says the authorities probably wouldn’t approve of the idea.

 “Cities wouldn’t want to lose revenue,” she says. “I don’t know how much I can get away with.”

 Rather, the meters will be installed in bookstores, galleries, business lobbies and other public areas. “ Whatever business or public entry with a lot of foot traffic that wants one,” Atkinson says.

The meters will also be decorated and altered, Atkinson says, to distinguish the art meters from utilitarian cousins. One meter, for example, will be spray painted gold and covered in fake rhinestones.

 Each meter will play several messages on a tape loop that will repeat until time expires. Recordings will range from poems to stories to slogan.

 She says a primary motivation behind the project was a desire to “ record the voices before they are silenced.”

 The project grew out of a work Atkinson created that later sold to a private collector through the Santa Monica Museum of Art. She notes that one term of the sale was that the collector donate all money fed into the meter to an AIDS charity.

 City arts advisors in West Hollywood lent their approval of the project at a Fine Arts Advisory Board meeting two weeks ago. Deanna Stevenson, deputy to Mayor Abbe land, says the project interested city officials.

 “It’s intriguing,” Stevenson says. ‘”It’s an interesting was to get these voices heard. And because we have so many residents with the HIV virus in West Hollywood, this project has particular significance.”

 To Peimer and other artists contributing text, the project presents an opportunity to present their work in a new way. “The image of the parking meter expiring and someone dying is just so resonant to me,” he says.

 Peimer says he believes the friend who inspired the text would approve of the parking meter project. “ He had a really twisted sense of humor,” he says. ‘ So I think he would really appreciate the fact that people will be sticking coins in a meter to hear his story.”

 The project is set to open Dec. 1 with a reception at a  participating business.

LA Village View January 20- 26, 1998


METER REMADE: Karen Atkinson’s Work is Not Just Utilitarian

Things aren’t always what they seem. Parking meters have long been symbols of anxiety, their employ often leading to tickets and frustration. In Los Angeles this month, however, some seventeen meters are being put to a far more creative and far less annoying use.

The creation of L.A. artist and independent curator Karen Atkinson, the public art project entitled “ For the time Being” alters meters so that they become vessels of artistic and social commentary: the “violation” marker has been replaced with one declaring “in memory”, and the meters have been wired for sound so that a voice delivers words by artist and writers whose lives have been touched in one way or another by the AIDS epidemic. An attached plaque also distinguishes these meters from the standard variety, reading:

Let no voice be silenced. Please feed the meter, a recording of texts by artists and writers with HIV/AIDS and their friends and families will play. When the time on the meter runs out, the voices will be silent.  Proceeds from this project will go towards a fund to support artists with AIDS in the fabrication of their artwork. This project is made possible in part by a grant from the City of Los Angeles, Cultural Affairs.

 A powerful act of remembrance, Atkinson’s project explores metaphors of time, limits, and horizons, as well as issues of life and death. These meters- and the title of the project- are concrete reminders of a ticking clock, of passing time and mortality. We listen in a daze to a web of potent memories- of loved ones’ dreams and lives terminated abruptly and painfully; we hear self- questioning and tortured answers.

Mark Niblock- Smith’s text recalls one of his dreams. It was included in an installation he managed to complete before his death. Traces of this project live on in the parking- meter project:

The sky above me was gilled with hundreds, no thousands of seals. Each seemed to be dancing a slow, autonomous waltz. A beautiful dance of sorts, and I had been invited to watch. I was never so happy as at that moment. And then it occurred to me. Something was wrong. I noticed in the distance that one of the seals was beginning to drop. It was a slow decent and I watched carefully…Slowly the seal came down and gently touched the soil. No movement followed. The beautiful animal was still…I looked into the sky again only to see another seal making its slow descent to earth…tears welled in my eyes. I looked around.  I was surrounded by hundreds of dead seals. Through my tears, I strained to see the time on my watch. It was time to go. I had a plane to catch. I had somewhere to go…”

 Jordon Peimer’s text addresses his discovery that a lover has AIDS:

Suddenly there is one more face on this thing on this thing, it just finally happens to be one that you spend two or three evenings a week with. And even if you weren’t at risk, which you are, your world just moved a little bit closer to the garbage disposal. Hey, it isn’t like we don’t both know plenty of others, but it finally just tapped you on the shoulder and smiled real hard. You could smell hospitals on its breath. It finally said, “ Hey, don’t get cocky, ‘ cause I am just next door, and I am moving in.” And a chain reaction starts like the one in his body. And the point of infection is lost, ‘cause it all has suddenly redesigned itself and nothing is ever quite the same as it was, and suddenly there are two sides to everything and you are no longer the same one.  When he told me he said, “not me, no wanton sex, no slips. No slips.”  When he told me he said, “Not me, I want you to understand me. I was clean. By the rules.”  When he told me he said, “ Not me, stakes and assumptions applied to others, not me.” When he told me he said, “Not me, I wasn’t supposed to be the one.” When he told me the clock started to run. To measure the quality of a life unlived. You can’t stop the clock, but you can stop.”

 Today’s flavor of the month media series on an issue creates high drama, then discards it to move on to the next high- profile story.  This approach has affected out psyches, our environment, our culture. From the grand expansion of communications technology to the intimate effects of AIDS, the time and space wages on all fronts.  Atkinson’s contribution to the meter project addresses such concerns, contextualizing more broadly a number of issues about how we respond to life: what is remembered and what is forgotten, what is attended to and what is ignored.  Adapting the famous poem attributed to Germany’s Martin Niemoeller, Atkinson reminds us that inaction and silence have their consequences:

In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.  When they didn’t allow women to vote, I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a woman. When they told me I couldn’t get AIDS, I didn’t worry because I didn’t think a woman could get it. When they passed laws to move the homeless out of my city, I didn’t speak up because I had a place to live. And when they came for me, no one was left to speak up.

 Thirty parking meters will be located around the city for the year and additional sites will be added periodically. For more information about the locations, please call Karen Atkinson at 310-829-0779.