Last summer, a gleaming portal opened in the center of Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square. It took the familiar shape of a mailbox. Beside it, a sign instructed, “Please submit your questions, grievances and love letters to the past or future.”
Responses were provided by “a team of dedicated portal professionals” and shared on Instagram, passing not just through time but also from the physical world onto the World Wide Web.
The concept for this magical service came from Santa Rosa artist Jessica Yoshiko Rasmussen, who collaborated with artists Julian Billotte and Anna Wiziarde to source and gild a real-life mailbox. A staggering 34 volunteers provided tender and surprising multimedia responses to the letters and objects passed through it.
The United States Portal Service was made possible by funding from the Open & Out call for artists—a grant initiative that invited local artists to enliven downtown Santa Rosa’s temporary pedestrian zone, created to allow restaurants to serve outdoors during the dystopian Covid-19 pandemic. The portal was one of several local artist projects funded for between $500 and $7,500 each.
Rasmussen says, “I’m such a big proponent of small local grants, because [this project] is not something I could have otherwise afforded to do.”
The U.S. Portal Service was inspired by Rasmussen’s observation that time in 2020 was completely disrupted unlike anything else we’ve experienced. It was also a chance to invite people to reflect on and share about the Black Lives Matter movement, Covid-19 and everything happening in politics—including threats to the U.S. Postal Service.
For three months, the portal opened, fielding 27 letters to the future, eight letters to the past, 52 letters on other topics, 62 objects, two ballots (yes, they were promptly delivered to an official receptacle) and three gifts of marijuana.
“On the day Biden’s presidency was announced, we got Champagne corks, marijuana, lighters, a full pack of cigarettes and coins; people used it as sort of a wishing well,” Rasmussen says.
Infamously, the portal service also received a cease and desist order from USPS, which was reported by the SF Chronicle Datebook. There’s good news, though—the portal will open again sometime in 2021 at the Museum of Sonoma County, housed in what was once the Santa Rosa Post Office and Federal Building. This time, the portal invites reflections on 2020. Follow @united.states.portal.service and @museumsoco on Instagram, so you don’t miss it.—CK