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Dentonites with a keen eye may have noticed a recent infestation spreading across the area. From Water Works Park to the Square, the hidden invaders have continued to multiply. Although strong in numbers, the new residents in question are quite harmless — they are nothing more than little pale plaster pugs.
The collection of white, crowned hydrocal dogs is part of the newly launched Power to the Pugs project. The collectible public art project was created by local creative design-build studio 23 Design Co., which officially let the dogs out on July 13.
Brandon Taylor, 23 Design Co. owner and university alumnus, said the artists wanted to take a new approach to public artwork from a private standpoint.
“We’re trying to push the boundary of what public art can be,” Taylor said.
Power to the Pugs acts as a Denton-wide scavenger hunt. A map found on powertothepugs.com marks the locations where pug figurines are hidden across the local area. The models are free for participants to take or leave for others to find. To help continue the growth of the project, 23 Design Co. encourages participants to take a picture with the pug, tag @powertothepugs and share it with friends.
Taylor said the project was inspired by the group’s former shop dog, a pug named Roger, and the universal love for dogs. For months, the artists brainstormed how to approach the unique art hunt format. Taylor said the artists later decided they wanted to get the community more involved with the city and its public art scene, so many of the figures are located within local businesses, including The Bearded Monk and Atomic Candy.
“We thought maybe it would point people to local businesses or landmarks and points of interest in them,” Taylor said. “So, you can kind of learn about the city and also experience a different type of public art.”
The team of artists are still casting the pug figures in their shop and will continue to do so until they reach the 500 mark. Taylor said the project acts as a kind of local social test to see how others will react and interact with the moveable art pieces.
“We’re curious where people’s interests are [and] curious about social engagement,” Taylor said. “So we’re trying to come up with new ways, particularly in Denton, to kind of take the town over with unique identifiers.”
Within its first week, Power to the Pugs started receiving tags in posts across different social media accounts and platforms. Taylor said this rapid response encouraged 23 Design Co. and their month-long efforts early on in the release.
“People that understand just the simplicity of it, I think are really having fun,” Taylor said. “We had one in the Cinemark and I guess it was one of the employees’ last day, so they found this pug, and then they just start taking all these pictures with it. Getting tagged in stuff like that and seeing people enjoy it is just really cool to see.”
Loren Jones, 23 Design Co. shop manager and university alumnus, said the sense of freedom with this type of audience interaction is important to the pugs and their impact. He said it allows others in the community to add their own unique elements to the artistic project.
“Some of these people’s creativity really shines through into something I didn’t necessarily anticipate,” Jones said. “I mean, we obviously hoped for it, but to see it actually work is pretty exciting and rewarding.”
Jones said the artists’ own level of freedom and flexibility is crucial to the project as well. He said since the pugs have been released it has been surreal trying to take it all in. The artists are still processing it and seeing how they can improve.
“It’s been a very interesting process because there’s no roadmap that we can just look to and follow,” Jones said. “It’s our first rodeo.”
Wesley Flessner, 23 Design Co. lead digital designer and university alumnus, said the group hopes the project’s main impact is the connections it creates within the Denton community. He said he hopes the pugs can help make local businesses and landmarks across the area more known while also getting people to interact more with the world around them.
“A lot of us walk past these places every day, but most people don’t pay attention to it,” Flessner said. “So hopefully with this little game, we’re making people engage with it a bit more with the community.”
As the project continues to grow, Taylor said the studio also plans to expand it to a pug-based NFT collection. However, Taylor said an important aspect of Power to the Pugs is that it is not exclusively digital.
He said the models’ utility follow a “ball and string theory,” where people are attracted to new and different ideas from an area, making it a cultural destination. Through the public’s attraction to the pugs, Taylor said the artists hope to show others that public art can serve as more than just beautification.
“That’s really the exciting thing from my point of view is just opening that conversation, which just happens to be over a little, tiny white dog,” Taylor said. “We can talk about just about anything from a creative point of view. It’s just all about having a bit more fun.”
Featured Image: A Power to the Pugs flyer hangs on a pole near Fry Street on July 23, 2022. Photo by Daniel Pope