Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After - CODAworx

Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After

Submitted by Scott Oliver

Client: City of Oakland Public Art Program

Location: Oakland, CA, United States

Completion date: 2012

Artwork budget: $40,000

Project Team


Scott Oliver



Veronica Graham

Most Ancient

Public Art Agent

Kristen Zaremba

City of Oakland


Michael Blodgett

Electric Sparkyland


Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After is a three-part public art project centered at Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA. The project's title, taken from the entrance to Children’s Fairyland (a popular amusement park near the lake), points to the use of multiple narratives to explore the complexity of relationships that comprise this unique urban landscape. The project consists of a self-guided audio tour; interpretive maps and storm drain markers; and a series of Lake Merritt souvenirs developed in collaboration with local students and artists.


The project is intended to generate an accessible, multi-vocal sense of place, emphasizing the shared responsibility of maintaining and protecting public space for all. While Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After does not (couldn’t possibly) capture all of the stories about Lake Merritt, it does hopefully reflect the multifaceted nature of the place and underscore its significance as one of Oakland’s most vibrant and vital centers of public life. Through a mixture of field recording, interviews, music and narration, the audio tour explores the natural, social, and economic forces that have shaped Lake Merritt and its surroundings. The interpretive signage presents a variety of more “objective” information and data, with an emphasis on the watershed, architecture, and natural phenomena. Whereas the souvenirs highlight personal relationships to the lake and extend the project beyond the physical site.


This project began as a proposal for an Individual Artist Project grant to create an audio tour but grew over the course of two years to encompass the signs and souvenirs. My research into Lake Merritt revealed a richly layered but porous place that only opened onto more stories. I conducted over forty interviews for the audio tour and worked with city officials, project managers, community groups, non-profit organizations, fabricators, a group of 6th graders and many other generous and talented individuals to realize this project. My primary collaborators were artist, Veronica Graham and recording engineer, Michael Blodgett. Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After also had multiple funding sources.

Additional Information

Project website: www.onceuponatime-happilyeverafter.com