‘Reserved for Loitering’: Paul Shortt takes back public spaces

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Photographs courtesy of Tiffany Chin

Aerial Story , Staff Writer

Walking around cities like St. Louis or Chicago, it’s not uncommon to see signs reading “No Loitering” posted outside of various businesses. But what does “No Loitering” really mean? Where is the line between loitering and simply enjoying public space?

These were the questions on artist Paul Shortt’s mind as he created his new project, “Reserved for Loitering,” which he shared last Thursday as part of the ECCE Speaker Series.

During the event, Paul Shortt shared his “Reserved for Loitering” project with the audience. His project began when he was simply walking around different neighborhoods and saw various “No Loitering” signs in front of businesses and across public spaces.

Shortt was bothered by the vagueness of loitering and felt that individuals should have access to a public space. As a result, Shortt created “Reserved for Loitering” signs and placed them in areas across St. Louis, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., where loitering was not permitted, stating the reason is to “change the way people think about loitering.”

According to Dictionary.com, loitering means to “stand or wait around idly or without apparent purpose.” However, Shortt believes that individuals may not always need a purpose to be in a public space, and that an individual’s purpose should not be defined by others in society deeming what is acceptable and unacceptable, which impedes upon individuality.

Shortt feels that “No Loitering” signs are often used to target and harass certain groups of people, noting that these signs are often found in low-income neighborhoods or places with a high homelessness rate.

During the event, Shortt asked students to define what loitering means to them and what the pros and cons of loitering may be. He asked students to share what forms of loitering are acceptable and unacceptable in public spaces.

Shortt finished his workshop by having students brainstorm new ways to loiter and creating their own “Reserved for Loitering” signs.

This event was followed by an art gallery exhibition at the Visual Arts Gallery in the Health and Sciences Building,  which displayed many pieces from Shortt’s project and will be open to the public through Oct. 20. Some pieces included banners, photographs, and authentic “Reserved for Loitering” signs used in his photographs.

He hopes this project creates a conversation and reaction by making people question the access they have to public sights.

According to the ECCE Speaker Series profile, Shortt received his MFA in New Media Art from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his BFA in Painting from the Kansas City Art Institute. His works engages the public in physical interactions and conversation that examine everyday experiences and cultural norms, often in humorous ways through video, sculpture, books, and public art.