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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Interview with Richard Ankrom, Artist

Aired May 13, 2002 - 09:51   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: When Richard Ankrom saw how motorists kept missing the turn for northbound Interstate 5 in downtown Los Angeles, it bothered him, troubled him. So, he decided after cogitating on it for a while, to take matters into his own hands and fix it. The performance artist and sign painter was fed up. He went for the gold, the gusto. He painted on a most unusual canvas, he created a unique work of art -- to wit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD ANKROM, ARTIST: I have taken it upon myself to manufacture and install these missing guide signs to ease the confusion and traffic congestion at this section of the 110 freeway.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAFFERTY: You have got to love this. Ankrom built it, installed it, and -- only in Hollywood -- he recorded the whole thing on camera. He has got himself about a 10-minute documentary. No small task, this, but with apologies to Burt Bacharach, does he know the way to San Jose? With apologies to our viewers as well.

Joining us now, the artist, documentarian, and guerrilla sign painter, future highway worker, Richard Ankrom from Los Angeles -- good morning.

ANKROM: Good morning. Thank you.

CAFFERTY: You are welcome. What was it about this particular intersection that troubled you, Richard?

ANKROM: Well, it was one of three -- just the situation, actually, lent itself also to its location, it was right in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, and I could also get to the -- I could actually get to the sign without being on the freeway and impacting traffic in any way.

CAFFERTY: What sort of challenges were you presented with in terms of making a sign that nobody would suspect was something that wasn't done by the official government sign machinery?

ANKROM: One of the little trickier parts was that the time. The signs were put up somewhere in mid-50s, and so they used button reflectors at the time... CAFFERTY:

ANKROM: ... and obtaining those took a little bit of time, because I -- I assumed that if I put something up that looked old, there would be less conflict. It wouldn't be as obvious that the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing, and their own bureaucracy.

CAFFERTY: Of course, that never happens with government, the left hand not knowing what the right hand...

ANKROM: Of course not.

CAFFERTY: This thing was up undetected for nine months. The California Transportation Department officials didn't recognize that this -- somebody had been messing around with her official signs for nine months, until they read about it in a local newspaper. Did that surprise you?

ANKROM: No, it didn't, not at all.

CAFFERTY: Why not? Sounds...

ANKROM: It is just part of human nature, and just the nature of bureaucracy, and even the fact that if I dressed up as -- and looked the part, and acted like it, then no one would stop me either. I mean -- I don't -- I wouldn't go up and approach somebody that looked like they were doing a job, question their job.

CAFFERTY: I mean, you have got the hard hat. I can see it in the footage we are looking at here. You look like real deal there, right? Nobody is going to bother you.

Now, the Transportation Department did -- they didn't detect the change for nine months, but they did, once they found out about it, they put out a statement, which is what government agencies do, and the statement says, "This is not something we take lightly. What Mr. Ankrom did was well thought out, but this was very dangerous and our crews take extreme safety measures when working. We were already in the process of upgrading all of our 85,000 signs."

Now, I guess they are not going to press charges, right? They are not going to bother you about this?

ANKROM: Well, I have put them in a rather awkward situation, and I knew that, too, also going in on this. But what they don't know about me, that I am also a professional too, and I have done -- work for people that involves liability, and millions of dollars of liability, as a matter of fact, even show up and work on their projects, so I do understand the gravity of the situation. I took every precaution I could. I couldn't get insurance because what I was doing was trespassing, which was illegal.

CAFFERTY: Right.

ANKROM: So if I got coverage, and something happened, no one would have paid the claim.

CAFFERTY: Right.

Well, fortunately, nothing bad happened to you, and you are here to do this little interview with us. Now the whole thing was undertaken as a result of a bout of depression, as I understand it, and the completion of changing this sign actually cured your depression? Is that true?

ANKROM: Well, in a way. I had been going through some rough times, and I used this as a catalyst to sort of pull myself out of it. Of course, I think that is sort of common.

CAFFERTY: Yes. What do you do for an encore now? What's next?

ANKROM: Well, I can't tell you.

CAFFERTY: Oh.

ANKROM: So you will just have to wait and see. Believe me, there will be something coming.

CAFFERTY: All right. Well, we will look forward to your next endeavor, with some amount of interest. This is kind of a cool thing you did. I love when people can get away with beating the system, and you did it here. Thanks for being with us.

ANKROM: Well, thank you. I would also like to add that I don't think other individuals should go out and do this sort of thing.

CAFFERTY: No, no. No, do not try this at home, as they say.

ANKROM: Yes, exactly.

CAFFERTY: OK.

ANKROM: Yes. Please, please don't do any copycat changes, things like that.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Changing highway signs is Richard's deal, don't be getting on Richard's turf. Richard Ankrom from Los Angeles, thank you very much for being with us. Nice talking with you.

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