Flint, Michigan is making a name for itself around the country as a place where artists are welcome to bring their ideas and execute them in collaboration with local artists and organizations, thanks to Stephen Zacks, the Flint, Mich. native responsible for the Flint Public Art Project.
The Project invites some of the most visionary and celebrated practitioners of contemporary art, design, architecture and urbanism around the world to participate in a series of socially engaged programs in the city. These programs are designed to contribute new sources of inspiration to the local culture, attract revenue to small businesses, draw activity to disused sites, support community organizations and reinforce connections to the metropolitan, regional and global economy.
Zacks works as an architecture reporter in Brooklyn, N.Y. In 2009, he started to research the history of New York City’s emergence from the financial crisis of the 1970s to understand the forces responsible for its later success. The Flint Public Art Project developed out of that research.
In designing the scope of the Project, Zacks thought about the way art had functioned as a tool of economic development in New York and how that might serve a city like Flint.
“In order to amplify the role of culture in Flint, it might require an economy of scale to be produced,” Zacks said. In other words, to have a substantial impact on the city’s financial crisis, it might be necessary to have a larger number of people producing work.
In the effort to bring enough artists into the local scene, Zacks put together a proposal for ArtPlace, a collaboration of 10 leading national and regional foundations and eight federal agencies that invests in art and culture’s role in creating vibrant communities. In applying for funding, his goal was to find a way to structure the process of bringing a large group of artists from New York and other cities around the world to Flint, Mich. to carry out his plans for the Flint Public Art Project.
“ArtPlace recognizes the unique value of art in cities, as well as the fact that there is no funding for these kinds of connector projects,” Zacks said.
The response in Flint has been extremely welcoming.
In planning the project, Zacks held many meetings with local stakeholders. Their input helped shape the project.
“We’re not just parachuting in; these are genuine stakeholders. Without them, none of it would be possible,” Zacks said.
Up to 50 different projects will be sponsored through the Flint Public Art Project. All of them are being produced in collaboration with local artists, community advocates, cultural institutions, neighborhood associations, businesses, real-estate developers and political leaders in the city.
“Through these collaborations, we are producing new images of the city, public art events, urban interventions, small-scale design installations and permanent projects at strategic sites in Flint in order to transform those places,” Zacks said.
The project kicked off last year by changing the conversation about one of Flint’s biggest landmarks, the condemned 19-story Genesee towers building. Zacks helped turn it into a public art installation that came to life with music, performances, light installations, video projections and a parade to the river.
“We tried to create a spectacle and draw revenue to the local businesses,” Zacks said. “It’s activating public space in a way that creates a dynamic experience of urban space.”
While the Flint Public Art Project will go on for the next 10 years, Zacks noted that the project is not just about Flint.
“A project like this can happen anywhere. I see the project as a model, not a one-off,” he said.
For more information, visit Flintpublicartproject.com.