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Note adds intrigue to table pyramids

Using a bucket lift normally reserved for pruning trees along city streets, Miles Cooley of the Spokane Parks Department clears hazard lights lined up atop a pyramid of picnic tables at Manito Park on Friday. (Jesse Tinsley)
Using a bucket lift normally reserved for pruning trees along city streets, Miles Cooley of the Spokane Parks Department clears hazard lights lined up atop a pyramid of picnic tables at Manito Park on Friday. (Jesse Tinsley)

Mystery stackers strike in Manito, earn their own Facebook page

City workers made an unexpected find while deconstructing the latest mysterious picnic-table pyramid at Manito Park on Friday afternoon.

An Urban Forestry crewman discovered a handwritten note addressed to park employees at the top of the stack of 36 tables. The note was signed “SKFS.”

It made references to recently constructed table pyramids at Riverfront Park and revealed that four teens are responsible for the latest stacking in Manito.

“We heard that our riverfront table pyramids cost $500 each to remove,” the note reads, “yet they only took 4 teens 25 min to assemble sans equiptment! Please stop wasting taxpayer dollars.”

The pyramid is the second at Manito this summer and the fourth in Spokane. City workers discovered a larger, nine-level stack of 45 tables Tuesday morning at Riverfront Park.

The latest stack was topped with a number of reflector lights that appeared to be taken from road-block signs.

Officials are baffled about where those came from, said city spokeswoman Ann Deasy. The Street Department has not received any reports of missing lights or reflectors from road block signs.

“It takes considerable effort to take those off,” Deasy said.

The Urban Forestry crew’s plans to prune some potentially dangerous branches at Audubon Park have been put on the back burner to carefully deconstruct the latest table pyramid.

“We get taken away from our jobs that we’re supposed to be out doing because nobody else has the equipment to take these down safely,” said crew member Shawn Craigen.

Craigen’s colleague Andy Thew laughed in disgust at the note.

“I like that,” Thew joked. “We can’t use taxpayer money efficiently if we have to keep coming to do this.”

The note concludes, “With hard work, anything is possible.” It also touches upon a bigger debate that has arisen in response to the pyramids: Are they art or vandalism? The note states that the pyramids are art.

City Arts Director Karen Mobley isn’t so sure about that.

“I don’t know whether it’s art or whether it isn’t,” Mobley said.

Almost any expression that intersects with life experiences could be defined as art, but artists should consider the consequences of their creations, she said. In this case, she says, the ones who stacked the tables should be more concerned about the safety of the crews who take them down.

“There is a sort of human cost to that kind of expression,” Mobley said.

Sometimes Mobley knows who is behind anonymous projects like the table pyramids, but in this case she does not.

“It seems like there’s a certain amount of that stuff going on around the country,” she said.

The U.S. has seen a rise in similar unexpected public expressions over the past few years, Mobley said. Flash mobs, groups who assemble in public places to briefly perform unusual activities and then disperse, have become fairly common. The mobs often form via social media as entertainment, an artistic expression or political statement.

The table pyramids have gained a social media following, as well.

A Facebook page called “Spokane Serial Stackers” surfaced Friday afternoon. The page has hundreds of “likes,” and the ones who created it say they have no affiliation with the people responsible for stacking the tables.

Now, following the trend of table pyramids, Manito may be in for some changes. For about four or five hours at night, no employees patrol the park, said Steven Nittolo, a horticulture supervisor at Manito.

Security guards check the park at night a few times a week. But they only make several stops at the park during each of their shifts.

“We may be changing our surveillance,” Nittolo said.

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