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This project was successfully funded on April 28, 2012

Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After: Audio Walking Tour

by Scott Oliver


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Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After… is an on-going public art project centered at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. The project, now in it’s third year, borrows its title from the entrance to Children’s Fairyland (a popular amusement park near the lake) and uses different forms of narrative to explore one of the city’s most diverse centers of public life. Needless to say the story of Lake Merritt is not one story, but many stories. While this project does not (couldn’t possibly) capture all of them, it does, hopefully, reflect the multifaceted nature of Lake Merritt as a place, and underscore the important role it plays in the fabric of the city. While the project is decidedly site-specific it opens onto subjects and themes relevant to anyone curious about the world.

Previous grants have funded substantial completion of Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After. I’m now seeking funding in the amount $10,710 to complete the final piece of the project—an audio walking tour of Lake Merritt. The audio tour is central to the project. It offers an immersive, idiosyncratic experience comprised of field recordings, interviews, music and narration. Guiding listeners in a loop around the lake, the tour explores the environmental, political, social, and economic forces that have shaped, and continue to shape, the lake and our perceptions of it. But perhaps more important is the idea that place is concrete, specific, and irreducible. It can only really be understood through multiple perspectives, which is why I feel it’s important to complete this project.

This work began with my walks around Lake Merritt and a growing curiosity about how it came to be. It is surrounded by a city full of contradiction, din, and disparity and yet exerts a kind of harmonizing force, as though it’s own out-of-placeness trumps all others. I simply wanted to try to understand the phenomena of it. This curiosity opened onto a rich history and entangled, layered present that I felt compelled to share with others.

The tour is structured something like a museum tour in that it uses objects in the landscape as stops. But these serve as jumping off points that lead to wide-ranging topics including the local Ohlone tribe, new-age spirituality, apparitions of the Virgin Mary, the Pullman Porter’s union, cruising ordinances, former mayor Jerry Brown, Fluxus, Venetian gondolas, spice magnate August Schilling, and Spanish-American War reenactments. Over forty individuals were interviewed, and combined with historical research form the core content of the audio tour.

Seven of 21 planned audio stops have been completed and are currently available for download from the project website ( Much of the research, field recording, and interviews for the remaining stops have already been done, but a considerable amount of work remains. Your donation will be used to cover the cost of writing a script, recording narration, editing the various audio components together, mixing and mastering the tracks, maintaining the project website, designing and printing a tour map, and promoting and distributing the work once it is finished. Funding over the $10,710 amount will go towards expanding the distribution of the audio tour by making it available at two local libraries and via personal cell phones.

The making of Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After has been a collaborative and community-engaged effort, involving dozens of contributors and participants throughout the various phases of the project. Other components that have already been completed include interpretive signage designed to give visitors a broader context for the lake, and Lake Merritt Souvenirs—essentially artist designed multiples including postcards by photographer Rachel Heath, a limited edition screen print by Veronica Graham, and a series of t-shirts featuring drawings by a group of environmentally-minded sixth graders.

This project is a genuinely public artwork that seeks connection with the lives of the individuals who will experience it. Please consider making a contribution towards its completion today.

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