Collection Conundrums: How to Get a Porta-Potty on a Roof?

Elysian Koglmeier | January 3, 2024

Construction worker and a woman walk up to a building with a colorful, geometric mural that is in process of being painted.Image credit: Clifford St. parking garage, mural by Amber Art entitled "Al Pasado del Futuro", commissioned by RISCA and RICCA through the Allocation for Art for Public Facilities Act.

Public art administrators have a lot on their plates. Imagine adding a rooftop toilet to the list.

To those unfamiliar with art collection management, it may seem pretty straightforward – it’s just tracking artworks that are installed and in storage, right? Ohhh but you and the many other (overworked) art collection managers and registrars out there know that caring for artworks is never straightforward. It’s a winding path with detours and hurdles along the way. 

In this series, Collection Conundrums, we’re here to embrace (and hopefully chuckle at) the head-scratching dilemmas that art coordinators face when managing art – whether that’s in a public art collection, museum, gallery, or other space. 

This spotlight comes from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. Read on to hear how Molly Dickinson, manager of RISCA’s public art program, got a porta-potty on a parking garage roof and why that task was vital to an art installation.

Here’s Molly:

“I have lots of conservation dilemmas on my plate…but this one was a bit different.”

Typically my conservation dilemmas revolve around how to get the state purchasing system to pay for conservation work–a “square peg, round hole” problem. In 2022, my dilemma was a bit different.

I needed to get a porta-potty on the roof of the parking garage where we were commissioning a mural by Amber Art LLC. As a parking garage, it lacked any public facilities that the artists could use for the weeks they would be working.

And since parking garages are built for passenger vehicles, not commercial trucks, the potty truck wouldn't fit and could not drive up and service the potty. The toilet unit was also too big to go on wheelies into the passenger elevator to be brought down for service, and no freight elevator was available.

Usually, when buildings are under construction, a crane will bring the units down once a week for service and then bring them back up, but this was a fully built finished structure, with a crane no longer handy.

"There was a week in my life where this was the one, single problem I absolutely had to solve." 

Finally, the owner of the building, the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority, agreed that they would drive a forklift over once a week and forklift the potty unit down seven levels of the parking garage, wait for it to be cleaned, then forklift it back up. 

This also involved them driving the forklift from one side of town to the other, weekly, since the forklift was needed elsewhere during the rest of the week. 

It was a huge commitment to the project and we wouldn't have been able to install this artwork without their partnership.


Check out RISCA's impressive public art collection on their Artwork Archive Public Profile page.

Screenshot showing multiple art installations in indoor and outdoor spaces made out of wood, glass and colorful materials.

Have a collection conundrum you’d like to share? Contact us at [email protected].

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