Collection Conundrums – How do you get a porta-potty onto a roof

Administrators of public art have a lot to do. Imagine adding rooftop toilets to this list.

For those who are unfamiliar with the art collection management process, it might seem simple – you need to track artwork in storage and on display. You and other (overworked) art collection managers and registrars know that caring for artwork is not easy. The path is a long one with many obstacles and detours.

Collection Conundrums is a series that aims to laugh at the dilemmas art coordinators encounter when managing art, whether it’s in public art collections, museums, galleries, or any other place.

The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts is the source of this spotlight. Learn how Molly Dickinson of RISCA’s public art program got a porta potty onto a parking garage’s roof and why this was important for an art installation.

Here’s Molly:

I have a lot of conservation issues on my plate…but the one that was different this time was quite different.

My conservation dilemmas usually revolve around getting the state purchasing system (a “square peg in a round hole” issue) to pay for conservation. My dilemma in 2022 was slightly different.

I had to install a porta potty on top of the parking garage, where we were commissioning Amber Art LLC to paint a mural. The parking garage was lacking in public facilities for the artists to use during the time they were working.

The potty truck couldn’t drive up to the potty because the parking garage was built for cars, not trucks. The toilet unit was also too large to wheelie into the passenger elevator and be brought down to service. There was no freight elevator available.

A crane is usually used to lower the units once a week during construction and then raise them again. However, this structure was already finished, so a crane wasn’t available.

There was a time in my life when this was the only problem I had to solve.

The owner of the building agreed to drive a truck over every week, forklift down the toilet unit seven levels in the parking garage, and wait until it was cleaned. They would then lift it back up.

The forklift would be driven from one side of town to another every week, as the forklift is needed somewhere else during the remainder of the workweek.

We couldn’t have installed this artwork without the partnership of these artists.