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The art of honesty

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Artist Jillian May had a simple idea: for two weeks last month, she set out baked goods on an unmanned table on Dean Street with a sign that asked customers to deposit 25 cents in a jar.

Some people stole the food.

Others stole the money.

And vandals broke the jar.

In other words, it was a successful project!

In fact, no matter what happened, May’s “Conzept Kiosk” had to be successful, given that it was part art project and part social experiment — and a statement on trust and honesty in society today.

Indeed, after a rough start, May said she began to see the better side of humanity, noting that area residents, workers and business owners began protecting her kiosk (and money) when the cookies and cupcakes ran out each day.

One of the kiosk’s biggest supporters was Peter Parker, 54, a security guard at the demolition site that may someday be the Atlantic Yards mega-project across the street from May’s kiosk, between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues in Prospect Heights.

Parker was not only May’s first customer every morning (his favorite was the vegan chocolate chip cookies), but he watched the stand — an example of the integrity May hoped the project would inspire.

Parker even said he once caught someone trying to steal the money jar. “He put it back and apologized to me,” he said.

Vandals were tougher. After hooligans broke her glass container, she started using plastic. But when she returned the next day to find the bottle melted in half and the money gone, May settled on a glass wine carafe — with an opening too small for a hand — that she hot-glued to the kiosk.

May came up with “Conzept Kiosk” during a residency last year on a small Finnish island, where unmanned roadside kiosks are common. She made her own and started selling American-style treats to the Finns — and at the end of every day, sure enough, she always found the right amount of money for the number of sweets taken.

Back in America, May not only found theft, but that Brooklynites are more hesitant to trust a 25-cent baked good left out on the street with a sign.

“They are suspicious of generosity in an urban culture,” May said of the participants in her social experiment.

Still, “Conzept Kiosk” did have a sizable fan base.

“It’s testing the idea of honesty, integrity and trust,” said Jimmy Greenfield, owner of the Soapbox Gallery, the Dean Street storefront where May placed her stand.

Once locals got word of the high-quality treats, they were inspired to come back for more. And the more they ate, the more invested they became.

“One time [when the bottle was missing],” said Anton Schlesinger, 26, “people just put money in the tray.”

Who says art doesn’t pay?

To find out about Conzept Kiosk visit www.conzeptkiosk.blogspot.com.

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Reader Feedback

Brady Westwater from Downtown Los Angeles says:
When I lived in Malibu a small farm - which had a lot of fig trees - had a table by the highway with a jar for the money and I never heard of it having any problems; one likely reason was that only the locals knew to stop there.
June 7, 2008, 4:28 am
Angela from =) says:
How fitting! Peter Parker... your friendly neighborhood Spiderman. =)
Sept. 6, 2008, 1:16 pm

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