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‘Superhero Changing Station’ transforms to honor frontline ‘heroes’ of COVID-19

Laguna Beach artist Robert Holton stands next to his "Superhero Changing Station" on Forest Avenue, where it has been altered to thank first responders, medical staff and all essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Laguna Beach artist Robert Holton stands next to his “Superhero Changing Station” on Forest Avenue, where it has been altered to thank first responders, medical staff and all essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Not all heroes wear capes on Forest Avenue — some of them can wear firefighting gear, police uniforms and scrubs.

Where local artist Robert Holton initially imagined the superheroes of his childhood, the red telephone booth in downtown Laguna Beach has become a homage to the frontline workers responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Holton said in a recent interview that the idea came to him while he was working in his outdoor studio space, where he keeps a mock-up of the installation.

“I wear blue gloves when painting,” Holton said. “I was looking ... and I thought, ‘Oh, the blue gloves kind of represent doctors and first responders. I might be able to do something with that.’”

Holton said he “kicked [the idea] around a week or so” before reaching out to the city to discuss the possibility of altering the Superhero Changing Station installation, which was chosen out of 25 proposals and will be on display for two years as part of the Laguna Beach Arts Commission’s temporary sculpture program.

Cultural Arts Manager Sian Poeschl said that Holton reached out to her to ask if he could repaint the giant gloved fist punching through the top of the booth blue and replace the superhero costumes inside with the uniforms of first responders.

The rework of the installation was completed in late April.

Laguna Beach artist Robert Holton stands next to his "Superhero Changing Station" on Forest Avenue.
Laguna Beach artist Robert Holton stands next to his “Superhero Changing Station” on Forest Avenue.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“I cannot think of a more fitting and uplifting way for an arts community to salute and acknowledge the contributions of our first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic than through this art installation,” Poeschl said.

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“As a community, we collectively show our deepest respect, and I applaud artist Robert Holton’s creativity and passion in conveying his appreciation,” Poeschl said, adding that she was thankful for the city’s fire department’s donation of a jacket for display. “Installations and adaptations like these can help the community recover, and the arts are here to help.”

Holton said the original idea for the installation was that everyone could be a hero, but he felt people needed to “step up” and help one another.

“I think we can be a hero in the easiest way and maybe that’s just opening a door for a senior or for anybody else. That’s very minor, but I think we need to reach out to our fellow men and ask, ‘Hey, what can I do for you?’ especially in this time,” Holton said. “I know we all have to push through. We all want to get to the other side. We all want to be healthy.”

“If you drive by and you see it, hopefully it’ll make you think of somebody you know or know that somebody’s out there fighting for us,” he said. “The news you see out there is so negative. This is more positive … and a little tribute to [first responders]. Whether it be big or small, it’s another way of everyone saying, ‘Thank you.’”

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