Friday, June 22, 2012

Impressions of Flint by Sinan Imre

When Stephen Zacks and I left for Flint, Michigan with a truckload of Z-Blocks — sculptural seating structures designed by Srdjan Jovanovic-Weiss of Normal Architecture Office — from New York City last Friday, I did not quite know what to expect. I knew that we were on our way to a supposedly stricken place, thus I could not help but leave with a slight feeling of doubt.

After a long day of driving, our journey led us to Braddock, a small town on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At this point, I should say that the only places I have traveled to outside New York are places that are known to be attractive for travel. Braddock was not. When you drive into Braddock from the East, the first thing you pass is Edgar Thomson Steel Plant. 

At its gates is a smiling giant, wearing orange worker pants and bending a piece of steel with his bare hands. One could imagine this symbol of strength greeting the habitants of this city back when it was alive with the workers of the steel industry and their families walking through the streets. Now these very streets are lined with abandoned delis, cafes, restaurants, houses, lots and churches. 

But there are still signs of rejuvenation, and seeing that this rejuvenation is starting with art gives me hope. One of the abandoned churches — the 1880’s United Bretheren Church —has been given to artist Caledonia Dance Curry, better known as Swoon. She is part of Transformazium a collective of artists and activists that re-imagine Braddock’s abandoned spaces similar to what the Flint Public Art Project is attempting in Flint.

Upon arriving in Flint, our task was immediately laid out for us. Without rest, we at once wanted to see the abandoned house that we have been given on the condition of fixing it up. Spencer’s Funeral Home, on the corner of University and Grand Traverse streets has been closed for decades. It's been left to rot as many of the other houses in the neighborhood. 

When its doors opened before us, piles of debris, a collapsed roof, boarded windows, no light, filthy air, and a dead squirrel greeted us. I realized at that very moment that it is experiences like the one described here that truly test someone’s faith in their endeavors. I will admit that seeing the condition that Spencer’s was in did shake my confidence. But at once, we started to shovel, opened windows and took down some boards and within minutes, the place had already started to transform. The beautiful two-story historic home that had the potential to be flooded by natural light from each and every direction started to breathe again.

With the Z-Blocks laid out in its lawn the doors wide open, Spencer’s began to attract a lot of the locals. Within a few hours, the entire neighborhood knew what we were going to transform Spencer’s into. Many came to help, others came to just have a conversation. One woman began to cry and hugged us for opening the doors of the funeral home where the service for her grandfather was held. At the end of the day, my faith in the project was twofold what it was that morning. 

The immediate impact of our continuing attempts at revitalizing Spencer’s Funeral Home as a community art center and a place for art happenings combined with the presence of Transformazium in Braddock have already shown me the power that art holds over economic and social improvement. -SINAN IMRE

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Flint Public Art Project Wins ArtPlace Grant

Flint Public Art Project Launches Series of Urban Actions Thanks to ArtPlace Grant

ArtPlace releases 47 grants supporting creative placemaking initiatives in 33 communities nationwide

(Flint, MI, June 12, 2012) Flint Public Art Project (FPAP) will soon be launching a series of spectacular and practical actions in the city, featuring inflatable structures, building-scale video projections, urban research programs, and conceptual performances in the street – thanks to a substantial grant from ArtPlace announced today.

FPAP’s ongoing events will be produced in collaboration with visiting artists from Detroit, Toledo, Buffalo, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Japan, and China, bringing the vitality and expertise of the global art and architecture scene to the city. In the fall, the project is organizing a Congress for Urban Engagement that will combine public discussions with programs by urban planners that use innovative tools to involve residents of all ages in designing the city’s future. These programs are being organized in close partnership with Mayor Dayne Walling and chief planner Megan Hunter. Among the visiting architects and organizations expected to participate are Interboro Partners, James Rojas, Damon Rich, Center for Urban Pedagogy, Public Workshop, Dland Studios, and Srdjan Jovanovic-Weiss.

"This project will shine a positive light on Flint and show off the creative work that is taking place here to turn our community around,” Mayor Walling said. “The timing of this project could not be better—it will illustrate new ideas and strategies that can be incorporated into the master planning process.”

In addition to planning, Flint Public Art Project will promote a series of art provocations, architectural form-making experiments, and spectacular video projections, culminating in a May 1- 4, 2013 public art festival. Entries will be open to local, regional, and international participants, inviting proposals for light-and-projection art, performances, and installations to transform a disused former factory site into a temporary public space and demonstrate its potential future use. “We want to encourage residents to feel free to transform the city through their own creative energy and actions,” said Flint Public Art Project director Stephen Zacks. “Every vacant lot is an opportunity to experiment, play, and reimagine.”

Flint Public Art Project will receive a $250,000 grant from ArtPlace, a new national collaboration of 11 major national and regional foundations, six of the nation’s largest banks, and eight federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts, to accelerate creative placemaking across the U.S. To date, ArtPlace has raised almost $50 million to work alongside federal and local governments to transform communities with strategic investments in the arts.

"Across the country, cities and towns are using the arts to help shape their social, physical, and economic characters," said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. "The arts are a part of everyday life, and I am thrilled to see yet another example of an arts organization working with city, state, and federal offices to help strengthen and revitalize their communities through the arts. It is wonderful that ArtPlace and its funders have recognized this work and invested in it so generously."

Flint Public Art Project is one of three Southeast Michigan organizations funded by ArtPlace in 2012 and among the 47 creative placemaking initiatives nationwide supported by the collaboration this year. Power House Productions and the Detroit Institute of Arts are also receiving ArtPlace support.  

“The Detroit and Flint projects receiving ArtPlace funding exemplify the best in creative placemaking,” explained ArtPlace’s Carol Coletta. “They demonstrate a deep understanding of how smart investments in art, design and culture as part of a larger portfolio of revitalization strategies can change the trajectory of communities and increase economic opportunities for people.”

ArtPlace received almost 2200 letters of inquiry from organizations seeking a portion of the $15.4 million available for grants in this cycle.  Inquiries came from 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands.

In September, ArtPlace will release a new set of metrics to measure changes over time in the people, activity and real estate value in the communities where ArtPlace has invested with its grants. 

Participating foundations include Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Ford Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation, The Robina Foundation, The William Penn Foundation and an anonymous donor. In addition to the NEA, federal partners are the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education and Transportation, along with leadership from the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Domestic Policy Council. ArtPlace is also supported by a $12 million loan fund capitalized by six major financial institutions and managed by the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Participating institutions are Bank of America, Citi, Deutsche Bank, Chase, MetLife and Morgan Stanley.

A complete list of this year’s ArtPlace awards can be found at