Arts Feature

Small Public Art Project Popping Up Downtown

Tiny Doors, Big Hopes

By Free Times
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Courtesy photos

By Amanda Coyne

Christmas may be over, but doors fit for an elf will continue to pop up in Columbia throughout the year. Three of these miniature entryways have already appeared at small businesses downtown, and seven more will soon spread to all corners of the Capital City. 

The latest door to show up is at Main Street’s Nickelodeon Theatre.

Behind that little door, high school students are working on a short film for the theatre’s Indie Grits festival. At least, that’s how Harriet Showman sees it: The Columbia blogger wrote a short screenplay giving a peek into what’s going on behind that door. The door, designed by Kimi Maeda, is topped with a window; if you peek through it, you’ll see a tiny theater where the fictional students rehearse. 

The series of miniature doorways was inspired by the Fairy Doors project in Ann Arbor, Mich. Sherry Warren, executive director of Pocket Productions, wanted to expand on the idea of what became a citywide scavenger hunt for these intricate installations. She says she first thought of creating a series of installations about “the creatures who live behind the walls of Columbia.” Ed Madden, an associate professor of English at the University of South Carolina, suggested the idea of tiny doors. 

Similar projects have been undertaken in cities all over the world, to the point that the Keebler Company sponsors some efforts. For Columbia’s project, Warren teamed up with the South Carolina Humanities Council and the South Carolina Book Festival to pair local artists with writers. A local artist designs each door, and a South Carolina writer creates a story about what lies behind that door.

Part of Pocket Productions’ mission, Warren says, is to “instigate collaboration with people who work across mediums,” which is just what the Tiny Door Project does by bringing writers and visual artists together.

Want a guide to the location of all the doors? Too bad: The doors will appear throughout the city unannounced, as if they had simply materialized on the wall. That adds to the excitement and mystique of the project, Warren says.

“We’re not making a big production about the revelation of these doors because we want to make it like these doors are just popping up,” Warren says. “We want to make it possible to think these creatures are living in these places, behind these doors.”

While Warren sees the doors appearing everywhere from North Main Street to Harbison Boulevard, she says there will be a “high concentration” along Main Street.

The first tiny door was found in Frame of Mind, an eyewear shop where First Thursdays on Main, a monthly celebration of art and local business, began. That location was an important one, Warren says, because of its impact on the newly revitalized downtown area.

The project also aims to place a spotlight on the businesses housing the doors. Many have expressed interest in having a door pop up on their wall, and Warren says she and Pocket Productions have been able to be picky about locations.

At those places where doors have already shown up, foot traffic has increased, Warren says.

The number of doors was initially capped at 10, but Warren says more might come if the current enthusiasm is sustained. Once the initial 10 doors all appear, a “tiny book” with all the doors’ stories will be compiled and sold.

“There’s so much interest in this, and there are great authors that would be good for other locations,” Warren says. “We’ve had tremendous interest from business owners.”

Updates about upcoming tiny doors can be found at the project’s website, as well as on Facebook.

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