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Jewish Journal

Flower Tower

by Rob Eshman

September 11, 1997 | 8:00 pm

I'm sitting in front of Bernie and Ed Massey's television set,choking back tears.

On screen plays a video about the brothers' latest public artproject. Among the powerful scenes, Ed Massey, the artist, helps aterminally ill boy of 6 paint a flowered panel. The colorful panelwill join 100 others in covering the unused oil derrick at the cornerof Olympic Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars. The result will be aMassey-designed public artwork -- "Project 9865" -- the largestmonument in the Western United States, an 11,000-square-foot artworkwith more than twice the surface area of the Sistine Chapel. Theproject should take a year to complete.

And it will remain a gateway to Beverly Hills, the video'snarrator reminds me, long after many of the children who helpedcreate it have died.

Not surprisingly, when the Beverly Hills City Council voted toapprove the project, many councilmembers and supporters broke intotears.

"When you have a child that has a disease they don't want," saidBeverly Hills Mayor MeraLee Goldman at the meeting, "and has to gofor treatment they don't like, and is scared to death of whoever isgiving the treatment to them -- what a wonderful thing it is to givethat child a chance for self-expression and the chance to participatein something so meaningful."

Project 9865, named after the 18-year-old oil derrick's OlympicBoulevard address, has several interwoven artistic, social and evenpolitical components.

After Ed Massey draws his floral design depicting each of the fourseasons, volunteers will take the panels to 4,000 seriously orterminally ill children in pediatric wards throughout the state. Thechildren will fill in the designs by freehand or using stencils. Forchildren without use of their hands, Ed designed a paintbrush thataffixes to shoes.

As many as nine hospitals per day are expected to participate inthe project. "A child who is dying will be giving life to astructure," is how Bernie Massey, the project coordinator, puts it.

Before the panels are taken to the hospitals, each will receive anundercoat from children representing California's African-American,Latino, Jewish, Korean, Chinese and Armenian communities. My JewishDiscovery Place Museum at the Westside Jewish Community Center willbe one of dozens of children's museums, art institutions, scoutingorganizations, school districts, and boys and girls clubs around thestate to provide children and art space for the project. Theyoungsters, from all different economic levels, will receive lessonsin each other's cultures, and share a feeling of cooperation andaccomplishment, according to the Masseys.

The completed panels will be given a UV-protective coating andinstalled on the derrick at no cost by Dinwiddie ConstructionCompany, the firm now building the new Getty Museum. A plaque belowwill be engraved with the names of all the children who participatedin the project, as well as all institutions and donors whocontributed toward its completion.

The Masseys are not alone in expecting the derrick to become amajor Los Angeles landmark. City officials are planning for some kindof visitors plaza nearby, and the project has received ringingendorsements from Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, Senators BarbaraBoxer and Dianne Feinstein, and Gov. Pete Wilson, as well as fromother elected officials, artists and social-service workers.

So far, the project has raised about one-third of its $1.5 millionbudget. Bernie, a former staffer with the Anti-Defamation League,said that he hopes the Jewish community "will lead the way. There area lot of levels of tikkun olam here." The brothers refuse to take taxdollars for their public projects.

Making art and helping the world have been sort of dualspecialties for the brothers Massey for some time.

While Ed, 33, handles the artworks, Bernie, 37, oversees themanagement of his wunderkind brother's projects.

The brothers share a Doheny Drive apartment not far from themonument's site. In each room are Ed's ingenious works. There's themodel of the huge Ferris wheel-like sculpture, which almost hungabove the intersection of Main and Rose Streets in Venice whereJonathan Borofsky's "Ballerina Clown" instead looms.

On another wall of the large apartment is a well-enlarged noticefrom The New York Times, listing Ed Massey in the company of JimDine, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Every other square foot ofthe residence is filled with Massey's distinctively bright, witty --and valuable -- creation.

His studio is out back, across a small, peaceful garden marked bya Massey-designed birdhouse and fanciful koi pond. On the studio'soutside wall is a sample of Ed's floral design, which, in time, willcover the 140-foot tower's current drab olive paint.

Why flowers? On one of his many organizing visits to hospitalpediatric wards, Ed noticed that ill children, when given a chance topaint, paint flowers. Now, they will have a chance to do it for allto see.

"Even for the children who don't survive," said the artist, "theirparents can drive by and see something their son or daughter leftbehind."

For more information, you can reach Project 9865 at (310)273-2352 or on the World Wide Web at www.project9865.org.

Brothers Bernie and Ed Massey (top right) will repaint theunused oil derrick in Century City with the help of 4,000 seriouslyor terminally ill children each painting a floral panel. Photo ofMassey Brothers by Romy David. Photo of child by Thomas Neerken.

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