For one day, cats get a 'PARK(ing)' spot near Orpheum

For one day, cats get a 'PARK(ing)' spot near Orpheum

CHAMPAIGN — Dog parks are common nowadays.

Cat parks? Not so much.

But on Friday in the city parking lot in front of the Orpheum Children's Science Museum, felines will have a spot as part of the one-day interactive art installation, "Cat PARK(ing) Day."

The "park" will occupy one metered parking space near Washington and Neil.

"If every dog has its day in Champaign-Urbana — for 365 days — it's only fair that C-U's kitty cats have their own play park, even for just a day, and even if the concept is pure fantasy," said Melissa Mitchell, a Champaign-based creative-reuse artist who is collaborating on the project with RATIO Architects. "Of course, anyone who lives with cats would tell you that the idea of an actual cat park is absurd — doomed from the get-go. But as a creative exercise, it's a fun challenge."

The RATIO Champaign office is sponsoring the simulated, imaginary cat park, which will be open free of charge to the public from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday.

It will feature cat-related art and other objects for sale, with proceeds going to Hospice Hearts, an all-volunteer central Illinois animal rescue that provides care to elderly cats and dogs whose owners are no longer able to care for them.

"C-U's Cat PARK(ing) Day" is the local edition of an annual global happening called "PARK(ing) Day." It was started in 2005 by Rebar, a San Francisco-based art and design studio that converted a metered parking space in downtown San Francisco into a park.

The initiative is described by organizers as "an open-source global event where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into 'PARK(ing)' spaces: temporary public places."

The mission of "PARK(ing) Day" is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of the urban human habitat.

The C-U "Cat PARK(ing) Day" installation, on view Friday only, will feature all the amenities cats might desire: "grass" ground cover; a custom cat tree, designed and built by RATIO Architectural Graduate Travis Schiess; a "repurrrrposed" park bench suitable for cats and their people; and a mini aquarium/catnip/yarn-ball station.

The cat tree and bench, along with the cat-related art, will be up for bid in an all-day silent auction that will close at 6:15 p.m. Friday. The Crazy Cat Lady Art Posse, a group of artists Mitchell recruited for the event, created the art that will be bid on.

Stuffed animals and other "cat doubles" will populate the mini-park — the new toy animals will be donated to local charities that assist children and families.

The park will be partially enclosed by a fence constructed from reused wood pallets and painted in rainbow colors, as a nod to the UP Center's Pride Festival this weekend in downtown Champaign.

RATIO, which also has offices in Indianapolis, Chicago and Raleigh, N.C., is transforming parking spaces in all four of its locations, said Champaign-based architect Ryan Hinz.

"As a firm, we wanted to participate in 'PARK(ing) Day' to demonstrate RATIO's commitment to enhancing the communities in which we live, work and recreate," he said.