Artist plants positive messages on Martha’s Vineyard landscape

Main Street, Edgartown sported a sign Monday. — Photo by Steve Myrick

Signs with inspirational messages sprouted up like spring flowers across the Martha’s Vineyard landscape on Saturday. Many passerby wrongly assumed the signs were the work of a love-struck suitor.

A sign in the field off the Tashmoo overlook reminded passersby, “Look how much I adore you.” Another placed on the hull of the Shenandoah, moored in Vineyard Haven harbor, said, “It is so easy to love you.”

Local artist and psychotherapist Julia Kidd said her public art project is intended to inspire Island residents to focus on the positive aspects of their lives and feel good about themselves. The temporary signs will be up from April 23 through May 7.

“They’re all really intended for the viewer to interpret by their own criteria,” Ms. Kidd said in a telephone conversation with The Times. “Every person that comes across them will have their own interpretation based on who they are. But I wanted people to have it be about them, not about me, so they all use the word ‘you’ in some way.”

Melissa Nellis Patterson of About Signs fabricated the signs, which all have different messages. They vary in size but average 16 inches high by 10 feet long. Although many are visible from the roadside, not all of the signs are installed in landscape settings.

A banner spanned Edgartown Main Street Saturday with the message, “There is so much to love about you.” A sign displayed in the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) cafeteria told students, “You are a bright idea.”

Some of Ms. Kidd’s messages are not on signs. At the Capawock Theatre and Edgartown Cinema, her messages will be projected on the screens before a film begins. For example, the words “I love looking at you,” will appear on the Capawock’s screen.

Ms. Kidd earned a master’s degree from the California Institute of the Arts before she became a licensed social worker. She has worked as a psychotherapist for 20 years.

“I stood at my office window one day, and I thought, I love this job but I need something that gets me out,” Ms. Kidd said. “It’s very private work and I was really dealing with the issues of people’s private lives and people’s public lives. I wanted to really find a way to get the kind of connections that people can have in intimate relationships more widespread. And the way to do that is always through love, because everybody wants to be loved, and that is the universal connection between all of us.”

Ms. Kidd came up with the idea for her art project a few years ago, with a goal to install her signs or messages in locations Island-wide. She spent more than a year securing permission from town officials and private owners to bring her project to fruition.

“I started out asking places that I passed all the time on my regular drive, but the Land Bank said that I couldn’t use their property, so I got a little discouraged,” Ms. Kidd said.

She said she put the project on the back burner for awhile, but then decided it was something she really needed to do. “It’s like I was called to do it,” Ms. Kidd said. “Once I lined up my energy with it, and went forward, it just seemed to be that the right people fell into place.”

She started talking with friends in Aquinnah, who referred her to town administrator Adam Wilson. “He was really open and set things up with the selectmen, and that went easily,” Ms. Kidd said. “I was like, wow, maybe this won’t be so hard.”

She next approached Tisbury officials. Although they were also cooperative, she found the approval process was more involved. Ms. Kidd first met with building and zoning inspector Ken Barwick who reviewed her plans and agreed to issue a permit contingent on the selectmen’s approval.

Mr. Barwick also referred her to the water commissioners to get permission to place a sign off the Tashmoo overlook, which is the Tisbury Water Department’s property. The selectmen and water commissioners gave Ms. Kidd their approval.

The process in other Island towns, however, did not go as smoothly.

“Oak Bluffs turned me down,” Ms. Kidd said. “And Edgartown put me through my paces. I had to go through the town’s sign advisory committee.” She met with the committee’s five members, who debated about an hour before voting to approve her project, which won by only one vote.

“Courtney Brady, for one, really got the piece I showed them,” Ms. Kidd said. “She kept saying, ‘It’s not just a sign. We’re not opening the door for just anybody to put up a sign; it’s an art piece.'”

“Some of the committee members were worried about setting a precedent and that a million people would want to put up their own message,” Ms. Kidd said. “But I told them, you can take it on a case-by-case basis, and the odds of another person wanting to come and put signs up in an Island-wide art project are a little slim.”

Ms. Kidd said MVRHS Principal Steve Nixon initially turned down her request to put a sign up in the cafeteria, because he said the artwork that hangs in the school has all been donated and its placement approved by the school committee.

“I said, you have a lot of artwork in the school already, and he said that all of it had been donated to the school committee, and they decide where to put it,” Ms. Kidd said.

She called Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools superintendent James Weiss and asked to meet with the school committee. Mr. Weiss agreed to present some illustrations of her project to the school committee, which approved it.

“My whole feeling about the whole project is you’re either going to come from a place of faith and love or you’re going to come from a place of fear,” Ms. Kidd said. “And that’s a lot of what came up for people, is either one or the other.”

Since the art project required permission from such a variety of private property owners and town officials, Ms. Kidd said she decided it would be best to limit the display to two weeks.

“I also think the signs would lose their impact if they were up longer, because they would become part of the landscape,” she said. “The element of surprise, coming upon them unexpectedly, was an important aspect of it.”

Ms. Kidd said she and a helpful crew of volunteers installed most of the signs on Saturday, April 21. “It’s unbelievable how many people have helped me on this project and how much support I’ve received, which affirms what a caring Island community we have,” she said.

In addition to the locations already mentioned, the messages are on display in West Tisbury at the Nip ‘n Tuck Farm on State Road and inside the West Tisbury Library, the Keith Farm on Middle Road in Chilmark, Aquinnah Circle, Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown, and the Island Theater on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs.