The Black Car Project!

November 24, 2007

Alumni Magazine and Ecuador

The Black Car Collective made it into Evergreen Alumni Magazine! I am in Ecuador right now so I have no idea what it says however I am grateful for the exposure. Many people are commenting as well with a diversity of opinions some positive, some negative. I would like to respond to both by asking the people who comment to respond to the other comments they disagree with and e-mail me with specific questions. My e-mail is

Ecuador is an interesting example of car culture. Cars are very much wanted by the local population but are obviously expensive. They don´t have the education to reject cars for the negative social and environmental impacts. In Ecuador owning a car is a serious advantage in short term economic and social terms which is extremely important when minimum wage is $170 a month. Fortunately because cars are expensive buses go absolutely everywhere and often. Quito has several amazing Rapid Bus Transit and trolley systems as well as the surface bus transit. Outside of the main cities buses remain super abundant traveling down dirt roads to towns of all sizes. Of course if Ecuadorians weren´t priced out of owning cars then the bus system would surely die out.

I´ve heard that real consumption change will happen in the US when the price of crude will reach $250 per barrel. Unfortunately government subsidies of oil as well as exaggeration of oil reserves can prevent the gradual transition away from fossil fuels and instead force an eventual crash. This is of no concern for oil companies because short term profits are always better then long term stability of the nation and world.

Back to my myopic little project. Economically I would have been better off to just keep driving it. The next economically best option would be to sell it. My prospects for work diminished a great deal because of my smaller commuting area as well. Obviously this project makes no sense economically but honestly nothing economic makes any damn sense to me. Several things have improved in my life. I am healthier because I walk and bike more and am less likely to die in a car accident. I know my community better having explored every street and browsed many of the businesses. Beyond that I feel good mentally, which is so valuable in this crazy world.

I am incredibly wealthy in Ecuador. It makes me sick to think about. Tourism is a huge industry here along with shipping off raw goods. Every problem I see in Ecuador seems to be directly caused by globalization. I´m not worried about the future of Ecuador. They don´t have much of an infrastructure based on oil yet. They don´t have nuclear weapons. What they do have is a strong sense of community and family. They have an abundance and capacity for high food production. They have a great climate that will always support life.

What about the US? I am worried. The northwest could be ok but what about the southwest? What about imigration to the northwest? What about the nuclear submarine base or Hanford? What about no significant public transportation? Salmon? Are we doing enough? Are we working fast enough and hard enough?

No we aren´t.

September 4, 2007

Make your own art from a car!

The Black Car Project isn't complete. We are now looking for individuals who are willing to make their own climate change statement. We want one person from every school in the country to create their very own decommissioned "art car". The idea is instead of a functional art car we want a non-functional car that is a statement on global warming to pop up in parking lots across the country. The car can be stuccoed and painted black, it could also be turned into a garden or be the bottom of a wind turbine. The only request we make is that it is created in the spirit of the original piece, that the car is someone's personal vehicle, and that it is given up with the pledge of not owning another vehicle until they are sustainable: if that ever happens. We also would like you to promote the piece actively and encourage others to create there own! That is the only way we can reach others with this personal and important message. Plus the combined work will add to the value of the individual piece and build momentum to change our direction as a culture.

September 2, 2007


Black Car Project

Global warming is real and caused by humans. This is the message that the scientific community has gotten behind and called “very likely” a scientific term for greater than 90% odds. But what does this mean? If you look into climate models that offer the most hopeful change estimates for the future you find grim results.

What the scientist aren’t portraying very well with their careful vocabulary are human terms that resonate with people. The death of the coral reefs, 20-30% of the species of this planet going extinct, billions of people without water, are consequences that are unthinkable and yet leave people unaffected when merely read. These facts must be reinterpreted by artists and spiritual leaders and portrayed to people with the necessary depth.

The black car project is a personal moral reaction to climate change. The Isuzu Rodeo now encased in cement was given up with the promise of not owning a vehicle again until they are sustainable, if that ever happens.

September 1, 2007

How you can make a Black Car!

The Black Car Project was a collaboration effort of three people. It took a long time to finally decide on what look we wanted for the car in our attempt to decommission it. We went through a variety of different ideas. These ideas went with general themes that followed roughly the idea of the death of the auto. We were messing with the ideas of tombs, gardens, and mosaics. We had a whole host of artistic ideas that may still be followed through on in the future that didn’t involve the car but involved sustainability, carbon, and art. After much boiling down we decided on the black car as being simple and meaningful.

For that reason I am writing a how to guide to help people through the hurdles that we suffered in creating this original project. The effect should be to make the process more realizable for people who would want to make the pledge but perhaps don’t have the time or resources that we had.

Basic ownership requirements:

To start with you must have a car. A little about this. My car was not a piece of shit. It was a faltering pain in the ass for sure, but it had some value. I could have sold it for profit and been done with cars and had a slight chunk of change in my pocket. This I feel is the threshold. Is this car worth something to someone as a means of transportation? If it can be driven and can be sold, even if it isn’t in the best shape (mine had a dented corner and some clutch issues), then it can be used for a meaningful artistic statement.

Is it the only vehicle you personally own and will the loss of the resource be felt in your life? This is another threshold for the vehicle to pass. I want to distinguish that I don’t think that never riding in a vehicle again is what this implies. On the contrary everytime you catch a ride with someone else you are actually halfing their pollution level per ride which is a benefit to them and no extra cost to the environment depending of course on their going to that place whether you are in the car or not. You can also chip in for gas money for your friend, and should (because nobody likes a mooch.) I am even willing to allow for switching over to Flex Car and renting a vehicle once or twice a year as being a sanctioned and non-hypocritical action. I think arguments could be made that small use like this (not abused) would make cars sustainable especially if the car is alternative fueled and carried multiple passengers.

But ultimately it is up to you. Do you feel like you could defend your action from the attacks of critics? Their will be critics by the way. I got a nice split of comments from high praise and encouragement to some rather testy and downright mean accusations. Both were welcomed and for the critics I was thoroughly prepared to respond with thoughtful stances.

Where are you going to put it?

Well you have a few options. If you own a house you could put it there in your driveway. I definitely want someone to do this; it would be a great conversation piece and a landmark for neighborhood kids. It would also perhaps be easier to manage and take car of (yes, there is slight upkeep to worry about). I also see only nominal items to worry about from complaints. It’s your property and as long as it is safe (which it will be) then what’s the big deal? If there are complaints then that could be great for publicity!

Next would be the University parking lot. That is where mine is. We put it in a very prominent location. There was an approval process that took some effort to sort through. We went to the campus land use committee with a proposal. They asked a number of questions to do with safety, aesthetics and care. We had our bases covered in these areas thanks to a knowledgeable faculty member. It proved important to say yes to their demands on permissions. They asked us to inform the parking department, police services, and come up with a maintenance plan. We were then able to take their tentative approval to those other departments and get them to sign off on the project. With the bureaucracy it tended towards convincing them that they were not going to be held liable for anything. The most effective way to convince them of this was by saying this other department approved so they were responsible. It’s unfortunate that in approving anything slightly controversial everyone needs an alibi for cover. It is also effective to seek out a friend in some sort of position of influence who can understand reason.

Thirdly would be in a private parking lot. That would obviously involve finding a friendly business and convincing them that giving up a parking space for art would be beneficial and that you and your friends would be happy to do it. I don’t know how this will swing. Let’s just say the businesses that look at you crazy you shouldn’t pursue. How about that favorite cafĂ© you always go to and know the owners of? Or the new green apartment complex that wouldn’t mind a little art? I think it is perfectly reasonable to expect that not only would space be possible to find but that money for making it could be provided. Watch out though! If you end up selling it, make sure they sign an agreement that says they can only maintain it as is and that under no condition can it be used as a billboard. If it is a green enough business I don’t see anything wrong with them using its picture as part of the overall image. Anyway, you decide since you will have to deal with the consequences.

The next would be government land in a park or school. I would seek out the “friends of” group at a park. They would have the knowledge of the process needed for approval. Many cities have funding for public art that can be tapped for this sort of project. Look into the art institutes for help!


Did you get approval? No? Well try some more and don’t get upset if you hit a stumbling block. Part of the fun is navigating through the different possibilities and generating a buzz for the idea. Hopefully you can refer back to our project to make approval easier. Remember the people who were excited about your project and go back to them when you need to.

How are you going to pay for it?

We were able to get a grant to cover the material costs. That was our way of getting it done what will be yours? Stuccoing an SUV and painting it black with no discounts or freebies, which is an unlikely situation, costs in the $550-$950 range. I think that this is a reasonable amount to pay out of pocket. The reason is because of how much income you will save from no insurance, maintenance or gas costs even with the addition of public transit costs and other costs you could easily save more than the cost to build in a year. I also think that there is a tax write off possibility that I haven’t pursued.

Another way is by writing grants, selling it, or asking for donations. I think that the idea here is to break even, not make money. If for some reason you were able to make money by selling it the morally responsible thing would probably be to recoup the cost of building only, and use the rest in a charitable way. Remember, this needs to be motivated for the right reasons (I’m a notorious stickler for good intentions) and profit isn’t what we are going for here. Promotion can cost money and putting money aside for maintenance makes sense as well. Of course, I leave it again up to your own ethical discretion as to what to do with any form of profit.

How we built it.

Here’s the gist of it. We used 1200, ¼” to ½” self tapping screws to form a metal lathe tightly to the frame for the stucco to adhere to. This took us about a week of afternoons and a weekend to finish, mostly because we had to figure out things as we went, and didn’t rush. I’ll bet if supplies are gathered it could be mostly finished in a solid two days with 2-4 people working steadily all day. The wheel wells were boarded up with scrap wood and the tires were tricky to attach the lathe to. We went with a bit of wire ties. The lathe formed well with some hammering around corners and we probably spaced the screws every 3 to 8 inches. We used metal strips from window screens across the glass which we drilled the lathe onto. That worked fine although we could have gotten it more solid.

Before we finished lathing the wheel wells we jacked the car up and put it on concrete blocks. That way the bulk of the weight was off the tires and on the blocks if the tires were to go flat. We also blocked the suspension so it barely wiggled instead of bouncing up and down if we stood on the bumper. We drained the gas tank by siphoning (no complex gas tank removal operation) and drained the oil. We also yanked the battery out. As far as the other fluids we left them in figuring that they weren’t going anywhere. If there ever is a leak the underside is accessible and we can drain it and clean it up.

Of slight concern is the strength of the roof and hood. It is reasonable to expect people to be climbing on it. What we found is that the stucco was a terrific stiffener and could take a tremendous amount of abuse. The sides were fine. The top and hood were strong but not so strong that people could safely climb or jump on it without the possibility of cracking. What we didn’t do enough of was blocking on top of the motor towards the hood and similarly on the inside. Another idea is to put a piece of plywood across the top. We didn’t do any of that and it hasn’t cracked other than some micro fissures on the edges. That was partly caused by our not keeping the stucco wet enough for the first two days. The paint does a good job of hiding small imperfections. You be the judge of whether you think the location warrants heavy reinforcements.

We chose to keep the side mirrors but we removed the rack on top. Those little decisions of detailing will vary per car. You may need to strengthen some areas and hide others. Remember people won’t notice omissions or slight changes in appearance. Take the time to do a good job at this part and stuccoing will be a snap.

Stuccoing is a two or three step process and is best done with help from someone who knows what they are doing. We had someone in our group with that kind of knowledge. He was the person who suggested the idea of stucco. If you have someone who knows how to use some other covering then you can try that out instead! Basically, stuccoing is a snap, so don’t worry.

We rented a cement mixer. This is a small machine that looks like a spinning cauldron. We had some trouble mixing, the machine wasn’t very good and we tried in futility to dye the stucco black. Please don’t listen to people who sell it to you. Dying stucco black is not really possible in this size project. It turned a dark grey and was hard to keep evenly colored. Anyway, get safety glasses, rubber gloves and dust masks. We slid on a base layer and roughed it up with a rake like tool so that the next layer would have something to cling to. Stucco comes in multiple varieties. We used a base layer and a finishing layer but you do it with what you think you need.

After the first rough layer we were stoked! It looked awesome then we waited for several days before the next layer. Refer to your bag for those instructions. The second layer was easier to spread because we used the finishing grade and it slid on smooth. We were thinking we would use three layers but went with two because of time constraints. My one regret is not following through on the “keeping it moist” instructions because we found a few areas with tiny cracks. After that we had to let it cure for at least six weeks before painting it. Each layer of stucco took less than a day to apply.

This time delay might seem annoying between segments. The interesting thing was that it wasn’t annoying at all. In fact, because the art piece was built in the spot that it was staying we had a lot of people come by during production. Probably 200 different people got to talk to us over the two weeks we worked on it. That became an important part of the art work as we went to talk to people about what we were doing and why. It allowed us a chance to really develop our responses in an eloquent clear way. It also convinced us that we should work to make the art a part of the community and encourage others to do the same.

Plan a party!

We had a couple days were we sat outside the art work and answered questions leaving a comment book for people to sign. During those two days we had graduation and a large crafts fair bring people to the campus. Several thousand people walked by and several hundred took flyers, we were always running out. It was unfortunate at the time that the website was not up yet and that it wasn’t black but each stage of the project looked good to viewers. It was a big payoff to see, hear and read peoples’ reactions!

We also decided not to have a sign for it. We let a whole lot of people know what it meant to us and passed out flyers stating its purpose. We have a website that we may eventually add a tag to the license plate so that people can go to it for more information, but it is nice to not have all the answers spelled out. Let people ponder the reasons they might come to different conclusions but we figured out that everyone came to the conclusion that was most right for them.

Link up to us!

This is the most important. Add your images and story to our website and promote the project to one or two other people successfully. If we can do that then we can hopefully create something that is bigger than our own part and maybe make people thousands of miles away think about whether they value the freedom of the automobile over the sustainability of the environment we live in. Please pass this along to anyone who might be interested and e-mail me with your ideas!

July 30, 2007

Beginning to have press

We are begginning to get some publicity. We recently had another website publish our image. Art Not Oil, a part of Rising Tide UK, added our image and web address. Once the sculpture is painted black, now that the cement has cured, we will take a few more photos and send out a press release. Of course we really don't need much official press instead we just need word of e-mail.

July 3, 2007

Paint it black.

At the end of July and beginning of August we will paint the sculpture black. We waited so that the stucco could cure for 6 weeks. Even though it was only grey at graduation and super Saturday we got a lot of feedback in our comment book that we left there. We also had over 200 flyers taken, they were out everytime I stopped by!

The comments ranged the gambit from people who were really excited and moved by the piece to some who were angered by the sculpture. Over fifty people commented, though most people didn't sign their name. In general it was very supportive. We did get a few criticisms worth noting and responding to.

June 15, 2007


Black Car Project

Global warming is real and caused by humans. This is the message that the scientific community has gotten behind and called “very likely” a scientific term for greater than 90% odds. But what does this mean? If you look into climate models that offer the most hopeful change estimates for the future you find grim results.

What the scientist aren’t portraying very well with their careful vocabulary are human terms that resonate with people. The death of the coral reefs, 20-30% of the species of this planet going extinct, billions of people without water, are consequences that are unthinkable and yet leave people unaffected when merely read. These facts must be reinterpreted by artists and spiritual leaders and portrayed to people with the necessary depth.

The black car project is a personal moral reaction to climate change. The Isuzu Rodeo now encased in cement was given up with the promise of not owning a vehicle again until they are sustainable, if that ever happens.

June 12, 2007

Polar Bear Float

Polar Express melting in the sun!

Building Paper Polar Bears
“Hold the arts as a very powerful tool to raise the collective consciousness and awaken our culture's numbed aesthetic values, thereby inciting a hunger for personally protecting the natural world.”
-Eli Sterling

The Procession is a celebration of the earth and all its elements. Thousands come together wearing costumes, waving batiks, holding wind socks, dancing and playing music through the streets. Even those who do not make floats or costumes are included in the procession by policemen who distribute 7,000 pieces of chalk to the crowd. Everything from young dance classes to bicycle powered rhinos to 10 foot tall polar bear on icebergs create the procession.

Our project was the creation of the polar bear float. It took approximately two weeks and a total of around 180 combined hours to complete. We started by wandering into the Procession Studio and looking around. It was such an inspiring place, filled with people happily working at creating art. People of all types made art together, from rosy cheeked kids, to punk kids, to grey haired kids. I wandered up to Eli with this idea to build a full scaled polar bear and baby bear on an iceberg and too my astonishment he gave me a full tour of where everything in the studio was and how to get started.

I wandered home that day deciding that it was not only possible but it was exactly what we were going to do! Two days later we started work on paper macheing a baby bear. It went quick and onward we went towards finishing a second baby and then the big momma. Finally the day before the procession, a little red eyed, we finished assembling the whole project onto our sturdy iceberg that seperated and came back together.

What really made our project was the feeling of comradere with everyone else there. After being around people's uniquely inspired projects you want to help each other get things done. Each costume, each float becomes important to complete. Inviting all of our friends to help was also crucially important. At different points in time we had 10 different people lending a little or a lot of help.

Finally, five of us, wearing polar bear suits, gathered together to help pull the float down the streets, continually breaking the icebergs apart, spinning them around and then pulling them back together. There was a flaming sun beating down on the float that helped to connect our float to the message of global warming. With one of the founding tenants being “No written words or symbols” we found a creative inspiring way to say “How much can Sweaty the Polar Bear, bear?” People cheered and we got a lot of feedback that people got our message and enjoyed the show.

Evergreen Bikes!

On April 14th, 2007, bikers converged at Division and Harrison to show their support for Step It Up National Climate Action Day. There were close to 50 bikers carrying signs with slogans like "Global Warming is Terrorism" and "Bikes are Sexy." Riding downtown they blocked lanes of car traffic and got a lot of support from pedestrians and sympathetic drivers alike. The ride proceeded through downtown and ended at Sylvester park for the main event.

The event featured a myriad of speakers and music intertwined throughout the day. People came in waves, wandering through the delightful and informative booths soaking up information for this first but soon to be annual event. Every half an hour groups left on an imaginary new waterfront tour showing where the waterline in Olympia is predicted to be.