The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
In the spirit of creativity, collaboration and fun, San Mateo is hosting its first ever Innovation Week to highlight the wealth of talent that can be found throughout the Bay Area.
From May 12-16, the public is urged to engage in a range of downtown activities including a discussion panel led by the founder of Burning Man, an innovative cocktail crawl, browse designs by the College of San Mateo’s architecture club and witness evening light displays. The public can also flex their creative muscles and help brainstorm what types of art will be displayed on fencing along the three vacant lots on Third Avenue and El Camino Real.
The event leads up to next weekend’s annual Maker Faire, a tech and science fair that started in San Mateo in 2006 and has since led to more than 100 events throughout the world.
The city, San Mateo Area Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown San Mateo Association and the Economic Development and Growth Enterprise, or EDGE, joined to generate Innovation Week, said Rebecca Zito, senior management analyst with the city of San Mateo.
“We have a lot of startup companies, tech companies coming to our community. There are a lot of creative people that are building artistic communities and a lot of innovation within the downtown area,” Zito said. “[Innovation Week] gives us an opportunity to highlight that and elevate it to the next level.”
There are several activities occurring throughout the week and a new event each day, Zito said.
The event kicks off Monday night with the city recognizing Dale Dougherty, founder of Maker Faire, said Linda Asbury, on the executive board of EDGE.
Tuesday evening brings an Innovative Cocktail Crawl with creative food and drink concoctions.
On Wednesday evening, there will be a free Burning Man themed panel discussion to hear examples of how people have taken ideas they’ve “been passionate about and skilled in doing and then engaged like-minded people to work with them, to collaborate with them and to develop projects that they can bring to an underdeveloped area or an area that needs resurgence,” Zito said
On Thursday, the 3 Corners project will help reinvigorate the blighted vacant lots on Third Avenue and El Camino Real. Unattractive fences now surround two of these former gas stations.
In the spirit of innovation, Marcus Clarke, the city’s economic development manager, said San Mateo is looking to the public for ways to enhance the area until the property owners develop their lots.
“Third Avenue is the main entryway into the downtown and the community has been wanting to see something done with those properties for a long time,” Clarke said. “This is just a way to make the area more attractive than what’s currently there.”
Artists, creators and visionaries are invited to attend two sessions to discuss and submit ideas on how to transform the three fences into works of art. The city and the DSMA are also waiting to see if they receive a $25,000 grant that could open the doors to something more permanent, Clarke said.
The public can see an instant makeover and psychedelic artistic display during Innovation Week as each evening the walls against two lots will be lit up with flowing art, said DSMA Executive Director Jessica Evans.
“That intersection is kind of sleepy right now and underused,” Evans said. “Those lots definitely need some beautification and if it does take a little longer for a developer to come and transform those properties, why not bridge that time with something that’s more attractive.”
Gallery Walls is 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. as a means to kick off the DSMA’s new nonprofit, the Downtown Art Project, Evans said.
Two local artists will have their work displayed as well as the Joshua Light Show, which was started in the Bay Area in the 1960s.
Each evening will have a different theme but it’s not like a movie and spectators can view at their leisure, Evans said.
“If you go by the Gallery Walls on Monday night, it’ll be a totally different experience on Wednesday night. And we think this is a fun and innovative way to activate that space and welcome people to downtown,” Evans said.
Also on display throughout the week, are two parklets designed and built by the College of San Mateo’s architecture club, Zito said. The structures provide portable seating, tables, bike racks and planters, which will be temporarily installed but can be used at other events. Each takes up two street parking spaces with one in front of CREAM on South B Street and the other at 3 Bees Coffee on Third Avenue.
Innovation Week will wrap up Friday with a party, prizes and food at the downtown Caltrain Station.
San Mateo has its own hub of talent and creativity; it was the birthplace of Maker Faire, YouTube, AdMob and Draper University, Asbury said. But the city is often overlooked so Innovation Week is an exciting way to highlight what it offers, Asbury said.
“We’ve pulled together community, art, tech, fun, we’ve pulled it all together in one week,” Asbury said. “So let’s all come together and put San Mateo on the map.”