Tucson Oddity: The beat shall return to 'Public Drums'

The interactive sculpture "Public Drums" is installed at Ochoa Park on Tucson's south side.


A lone plastic drum sits in the shade of a tree in a corner of a south-side park.

In its better days, the drum, equipped with LED lights, displayed a rainbow of bright colors and played a variety of sounds, from classical music to Homer Simpson, when a person tapped any of the four metal pads on its top.

But someone ripped out wiring that makes the drum come to life.

The instrument, a public art sculpture called "Public Drums," was installed in 2008 in Ochoa Park, 211 W. 25th St.

Artist Joe O'Connell was commissioned by the city to make the piece for the park after neighbors became concerned about nefarious happenings after dark.

"What we heard from the residents is that people do drug deals there," O'Connell said. "They shoot out the lights."

He had a budget of $10,000.

The artist spent some time seeing who visited.

"I would just sort of hang out and watch and observe how kids would go and play in the park," O'Connell said.

Once, a "very scary man" approached O'Connell and asked him, "Are you here to push me on the swing?"

After his observations, O'Connell decided to design a piece made of bulletproof polycarbonate that incorporated light and sounds.

"It was the first complicated outdoor electronic thing I've ever done," he said.

O'Connell plans to repair the sculpture.

"Whenever I am alerted to a problem with anything I or my company have done, we always respond promptly," O'Connell said by email.

Got an oddity?

Is there something you've noticed while driving through Tucson that has piqued your curiosity? Or is there some piece of Old Pueblo history you've wondered about? Drop us a line, and we'll look into it.

Contact the Star newsroom at oddity@azstarnet.com or 807-7776.

Send suggestions for a Tucson Oddity to oddity@azstarnet.com or call 807-7776.