Everyone wins in one artist’s lottery

The odds of hitting the jackpot in Powerball are 1 in 120,526,770. That figure never changes, no matter how many people play. A scratch lottery ticket yields better odds, with most games returning at least 50 percent of the total prize money available to players.

Yet everyone is a winner in artist Packard Jennings’ lottery, which offers prizes that go much deeper than your wallet.

With a work simply called “Lottery Tickets,” the Oakland-based artist, known for taking capitalism and corporate conglomerates to task, does so once again. In his new experiential piece, Jennings turns his attention to the community-building aspect of art, using the familiar lottery ticket as the medium for his tongue-in-cheek message.

“I think [the lottery] has this really interesting function … I think it’s the last justification for the American dream,” Jennings says.

Jennings created four styles of scratch lottery tickets, each one designated for a specific neighborhood, each one spoofing real tickets’ oft-gaudy aesthetic, and each offering a “prize” pertaining to the community where the ticket is distributed.

The project began Nov. 24 at U&I Liquor on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, with store owners passing out the first batch of tickets titled “Bling, Bling Cha-Ching.”

Thanasi’s Market in San Francisco’s Mission district began passing out “Fantasmas de Oro,” shouting out to its customers “Ransack Ruins!” On Wednesday, a third store will distribute tickets titled “Unicorns, Fairies, Santas and Bigfoot” near Oakland’s Lake Merritt. The fourth and final batch of tickets, called “Billionaire Bootstraps,” will be distributed beginning Jan. 20 from a market in San Francisco’s Western Addition.

Altogether, 12,000 tickets have been printed and distributed to stores in the project, which is supported by Southern Exposure, a San Francisco arts organization.

Store owners either hand out Jennings’ “scratchers” with other purchased scratchers, or to anyone who requests one. Laminated cards describing the project in detail hang inside each store.

Some “prizes” are stories or drawings culled from interviews the artist conducted in neighborhoods where the tickets are being distributed. Jennings said he approached “everyone and anyone” whom he came across in order to get a complete picture and representation of how people view their neighborhoods.

People who receive the tickets are invited to share their experience on a blog on Jennings’ Web site, www.centennialsociety.com/lottery.htm.

Jennings has no plans to collect the tickets and do anything further with them beyond the experiential, though he is considering initiating the project in a different city.

“The moment of art happens at the liquor store, when they scratch these tickets,” Jennings says.

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