Infrastructure: What makes a space FEEL like a district, not just the lines delineated by a map, but the culture of a place?
1. Unified Wayfinding-Gateways, crosswalks, planters, lighting, and spray art on the sidewalks.
It immediately visually and aesthetically makes you feel like you’re in a different kind of space than the rest of the city. There’s a difference there, one that is re-enforced visually everywhere you look. This invites artists and others to take what they do to the street, allowing the creative energy of a place take over.
The primary thing that makes Wynwood feel like an arts district are the murals, which act as de facto markers telling you that you have found, and haven’t left, the neighborhood. Which brings me to…
2. Public Murals-in obvious and obscure places by both established and emerging names in the field.
I’m the first to admit that the concept of plastering everywhere with murals seems superficial to creating the district. But in Wynwood, it became palpable, the creativity that was oozing out of buildings. Often murals are considered synonymous with graffiti, but this doesn’t necessarily touch on a more holistic visual art conversation. What I really appreciated about Wynwood (specifically Wynwood Walls) is that right next to less known street artists were well established contemporary artists such as Swoon (if you are curious about her work, the Chrysler Museum of Art has a great example); Maya Hayuk (really interesting Brooklyn based artist); and Shepard Fairey (you know- the OBEY guy and Obama’s hope etc). We stumbled upon Fairey one bright afternoon.
In this example there was a juxtaposition of emerging and established, self-taught and highly trained; it’s reflective of different types of movements, not just one specific kind, which ultimately made the site feel inclusive across social demographics and aesthetics. In our own district there is a blossoming variety of wall works; in my humble opinion we would gain much national notoriety, art tourism, and interest if we combined resources to commission a large mural by a well-established contemporary conceptual artist. It is important to be operating on a variety of levels–grass roots is complimented by establishment and vice versa.
3. Environment- engaging the local environment as space for action and impetus for creating.
We took a side trip to Miami Beach and happened upon the exquisite and highly engineered works of Theo Jansen (below). These art works are literally powered by the environment around them via wind, and designed to ‘walk’ on the beach. As we sit in a city that has impending flooding, it seems like a ripe opportunity for people to make work in response our local environment here, namely bringing into awareness the flooding and the tides.
4. Transformation- transmuting derelict spaces into spaces for unexpected experiences.
When driving through the arts district we had come across a boarded up building that had been converted into a site for artistic engagement. This place that was once abandoned had a fresh For Rent sign out front, showing how artists can change the value of the space they’re given as a palette or a canvas. Perhaps property owners in the district can consider the approach of someone like Bob (of Bob’s Gun Shop) and grant artists use of their spaces for creating and exhibiting until they are rented. Artists tend to increase the property value of a space, so give it to them for free, and even help subsidize improvements they are making- this comes back in spades.
5. Sublime interventions- Finding the mundane and adding a touch of the uncanny.
Let us reconsider a forgettable object like a drainage grate. While in Art Miami we happened upon a work by Vanderlei Lopes, in which they recreated a grate out of polished bronze (above). In a similar realm of site specific installation, ODU sculpture professor Peter Eudenbach created a work entitled “Threshold” (pictured) by altering a manhole with tiny mirrors. These kinds of interventions with everyday ordinary objects encourage a sense of wonder and possibility. Perhaps allowing artists to transform things like the sidewalks to be yellow brick roads or the old parking meters as a site for sculpture, will help entice the imagination. In fact, GSA students now have begun a fist draft of such an idea on Granby Street.
Programming and inspiration for artists: what are ways of fostering an environment for artists within the district?
6. Residencies- Support and exhibit artist through residency programs.
The myth of the artist toiling away in their studio to create work is age-old, but how does the artist afford said space to invent, create, innovate and explore their practice? An Arts District cannot be so without active artists living, working and creating. You need artists to have an arts district. Residency programs provide the much-needed infrastructure and financial support by awarding an artist studio space and, depending on the agreement, often augmenting with housing and a stipend. Additionally, this concentrated and privileged time to make often yields prolific results from the maker, with an outpouring of new work that invigorates and exposes our community to new and groundbreaking artworks. These artist residencies can both support local makers and bring in artists from outside the region, which boosts national interest in the district as a tourist destination.
There are many ways to structure these kinds of programs, below are just a few examples from Miami:
The Chrysler Museum Glass Studio–where I am the director–has had two Artist residency programs to date. To check out the results click here.
7. Interactive Projects: Art does not need to live on a wall or a pedestal.
It does not need to be in a gallery or in a museum; it is art’s job to challenge the perceived boundaries and to emerge out. There are many examples of interactive projects; from performance art and happenings, to new cyber works and art powered by motion sensors. Encouraging artists to make outside of traditional genres is imperative for growth and viewer investment. Here are a few examples from Miami:
– Marina Abramovic is a leader in the field of performance art. In the midst of Art Basel, one of the most commercial art fairs in the world, she invites the viewer to lie down and sleep. This piece is asking the participants to take a moment to reflect and to slow down.
Interactive artwork is becoming a new genre in the field, so much so that there is a new art fair in Miami completely devoted to interactive art (image from The Creators Project):
In our own district (super awkward self promotion drum roll here please) there is an interactive component to an exhibit that is currently on display at the Chrysler Museum of Art entitled Charlotte’s Web. In this work I hand engraved each of my 864 Facebook friends as small glass cameos pendants. The viewer is then invited to create their own cameo button by sitting for a photo, and in exchange they can take another person’s button. The idea is perhaps you will find yourself on another person, begin conversation, or even a real life friendship.
8. Art as Therapy- how artwork can truly be transformational.
Artist Pedro Reyes exhibition at Miami Art Institute (below) explored notions of art as therapy through a variety of interactive, participatory exercises. The viewer is invited to bottle their secrets, rolling dice after asking a personal question, or creating a voodoo doll that heals others or even themselves. Art as therapy in the arts district would reinforce the message that it’s not just about visual arts to delight the senses, but art holds a greater community importance.
Art, of course, can be healing and transformational. One example locally is international acclaimed glass artist Therman Statom, who produced glass fish with the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio Team from the drawings that cancer patients produced to design a swirling school of fish in the lobby at CHKD. Encouraging art-making to be an inclusive process and one that the viewer must actively participate in shifts the paradigm and engages people to not only have ownership, but to be more invested in the project.
9. Social Engagement and responsibility- What is the responsibility of the artist to be a commentator and a mirror to our present moment in time?
Young Artists Foundation in Miami current exhibit Zero Tolerance brings together works by artists from across the globe that addresses tensions between freedom and control. In this show there are striking works addressing political dissidence, urban redevelopment, social policy and gay rights by established artists such as Doug Aitken, Joseph Beuys, Yoko Ono, and Pussy Riot to name a few. Not all artwork should be political, but perhaps there is an accountability to help educate and bring awareness about issues if you have a stage to do so. In our own district, the Push Comedy Club is creating political satires and stand up acts which are gritty, raw, hysterical and often proactive. If you have yet to check them out, do so!
10. Keep the conversation going- Lectures, talks and symposiums.
Great artwork and ideas do not usually materialize in a void: things develop through conversations. Art Basel has developed a series entitled Conversations. For the full archive of talks, click here.
As for our own back yard, there is a really incredible art lecture series right here in Norfolk! It is free, and an excellent place to start to expand the conversation.
Each semester the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio hosts COME ART MY PARTY a free informal opportunity to come meet other thinkers, makers, and doers in the area for a PechaKucha-inspired evening of sharing. See examples from the past event.
There are regular public arts district meetings, keep an eye out and join in the conversation. Be involved, at least start with liking the district page.
If you are curious about the long-term strategic plan for the arts district, check out this report.
There is a palpable art environment in Miami, and much one can glean from a trip down there. But there is also an incredible inertia here in Norfolk. Our district has all the trappings to become something transformational, inspired and delightful. The weekend before last the Parlor had enough diverse programming to keep me coming back 3 nights in a row. The next steps are to educate about new movements and ideas in art, to empower more people to become involved, and to keep talking and dreaming about the possibilities.