The Palo Alto Public Art Program, the Palo Alto Art Center, and the Estate of artist Susan O’Malley have joined forces to present Susan O’Malley’s Community Advice Project, featuring a series of three colorful, radically positive, oversized posters outside the Art Center along Embarcadero Road, in Palo Alto, California. The large artworks were installed on September 30, 2020.
Susan O’Malley was commissioned to create Community Advice in 2012 in conjunction with the Palo Alto Art Center’s grand reopening exhibition Community Creates. As part of the project, O’Malley interviewed around 100 people in Palo Alto asking, “What advice would you give your 8-year-old self? What advice would you give your 80-year-old self?” Using the words of those she met, O’Malley designed ten different letterpress posters. This revisitation of the project will feature three specific Community Advice posters, along with a reprinting of select posters for community engagement projects. Community Advice showcases Susan O’Malley’s timeless work in a current context of social unrest, disconnection, and community fragmentation.
“The power of public art to stimulate discussion and bring communities together at this difficult time cannot be underestimated,” City of Palo Alto Public Art Program Director Elise DeMarzo says. “We hope that viewers will connect with O’Malley’s uplifting work and ask themselves what advice they might give to others and why.” Palo Alto Art Center Director Karen Kienzle adds “We feel strongly that the community needs this project more than ever. The positive, uplifting messages in these works remind us of our very best selves and encourage empathy, kindness, optimism, and love.”
Susan O’Malley previously remarked, “I wanted to create this project because I think it’s easy to forget how wise we can be. We resist our internal wisdom because of fear, fatigue, inconvenience, or any number of reasons. Also, I like to hear other people’s advice. It reminds me that we are different versions of each other trying to make our way through this life. And sometimes other people’s words magically express exactly what I’m thinking but can’t seem to pull together. Here in the Silicon Valley, I think this is particularly true as we hurl ourselves into fast-paced lives. We feel detached from one another and even to ourselves.”
A new edition of the posters created for the Community Advice project by Horwinksi Printing Company in Oakland will be distributed to senior communities and to schools participating in the Art Center’s Project Look virtual school tour program. Susan O’Malley’s Community Advice is a presentation of the Estate of Susan O’Malley, the Palo Alto Art Center, and the Palo Alto Public Art Program. The project is generously supported by the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation, the Palo Alto Public Art Program, and Pamela and David Hornik.
Susan O’Malley (1976–2015) was an internationally exhibited artist and curator based in the San Francisco Bay Area. From posters to pep talks, billboards to vending machines, O’Malley’s art uses simple and recognizable tools of engagement to connect people to one another. In her Advice from My 80-Year-Old Self project, she interviewed people of all ages and transformed their words into bold artwork that has been shared widely as a book, prints, and public installations.
O’Malley’s work has been exhibited in public projects across the United States—San Francisco, New York, Nashville—and around the globe in the United Kingdom, Poland, and Denmark. Her work has been exhibited at alternative spaces and cultural institutions, including SFMOMA, Oakland Museum of California, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, the San Diego Airport, the Montalvo Art Center, Kala Art Institute, and Palo Alto Art Center. Her participatory installation Finding Your Center, was featured at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. O’Malley’s project “A Healing Walk” is permanently installed at the Montalvo Arts Center.