Stumble on a bed in a public place, settle in for storytime

On Tuesday, March 11, Idealist will launch a new network to help practical dreamers all over the world connect and take action on the issues that concern them. Preparing for the debut of this imaginative new effort has gotten us exploring the many facets of dreams: what are their purposes, their powers, their opposites?

Welcome to Dreams Week on Idealists in Action.

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Erica Thomas reads to strangers in the park as part of Dreamland.
(image courtesy Dreamland)

What would you think if you were walking through a park and happened upon a bed, a rocking chair, a lamp, and someone reading stories? Would you think you were dreaming? Would you think your dreams had come true?

Welcome to Dreamland.

Dreamland, a new social art exhibition created by Erica Thomas and Amy Conway, seeks to blur the lines between public and private spaces. By constructing intimate, comfortable, story-time scenes using bedroom furniture in the middle of public spaces, Dreamland creates wonder and sparks conversations between strangers.

“We’re both really interested in the connection between public and private, intimate and not. How do those things cross and how do you break down those barriers?” says Amy.

Dreamland’s exhibitions aren’t limited to the physical objects in the scene; the artists also sit in the rocking chair and read stories to passersby, making the whole thing reminiscent of a child’s bedtime.

“Everyone has some sort of connection with being read to—or wanting to be read to—so there’s something there that people instantly connect with. Form there, it’s up to them if they want to participate,” Amy says.

So far Dreamland has set up shop in one location in Mt. Tabor Park in Portland, Oregon. The reactions have been diverse: some people are totally into it and doze off in the bed. Some people giggle and take pictures. Others curiously watch from a distance.

“You’re going up to Mt. Tabor and you never expect to see a bed set up there. That’s a little bit of it, that interruption of the day, a magical experience when you don’t expect it,” says Amy.

“The whole project—from carrying it up, setting up, and starting to read—created instant interactions with people who were curious about what we were doing,” she says.

Amy and Erica (whose artist collective shares a name with this project) are both full-time artists in Portland. Amy is also a writer, mother of two, and regular volunteer at P:ear, a nonprofit that provides creative mentorship to homeless youth. Erica is finishing her MFA in art and social practice at Portland State University and writes for Bitch Media.

Together, they hope to expand the scope and reach of Dreamland to include other types of civil spaces—libraries, bus stations, and (in their dreams) the DMV.

The big challenge with this kind of project in public spaces is, of course, logistics and permissions. But Amy and Erica have found the local government to be very cooperative so far.

“If you ask the right person, in the right way, they’ll want to help and they’ll be interested. People generally like to have people come and ask them a strange request. Even though it’s kind of a nut-and-bolt conversation, it is kind of fun to be asked for a strange thing,” says Erica.

“The basic premise is kind of like a hug, you know?” Amy says.

“People want a hug. And people want to lie in a bed in a public place and listen to a cool story.”

What’s your dream way to create wonder in your community?

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Comments (5)


  1. lenore writes:
    March 4, 2014 at 10:17 am

    I love this idea. Beautiful. I’m dismayed to think my mind went to bedbugs and head lice though. Isn’t that sad? Did people have a reaction to hygiene issues?


  2. Rebecca Olson writes:
    March 5, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    That’s a good question, Lenore. Hygiene didn’t come up when I spoke to Amy and Erica–I wonder if it’s because Portland tends to have fewer bed bug issues than other cities (I saw a ranking that puts the city at #49 nationally right above Sioux City, Iowa). The artists did tell me, though, that they dismantle the bed at the day’s end so it doesn’t sit out in the park for more than a day.


  3. michael writes:
    March 8, 2014 at 1:17 am

    The idea is very good and i can also help network it up.Email me at ; mchlbole@yahoo.com


  4. Crystal writes:
    March 10, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Love this.


  5. Dreamland Interviewed | amy conway: art writes:
    April 1, 2014 at 2:10 am

    […] Here is a link to the interview: http://blog.en.idealist.org/new-social-art-project-dreamland-infuses-public-spaces-with-cozy-wonder/ […]


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