FLINT_JULY

Flint Public Art Project is an initiative that connects the metropolitan art economy in Flint Michigan with the global art market and brings innovative international practices in architecture, design, and urbanism into exciting collaborations with key institutions and cultural leaders in the city.

ArtPlace asked producer and artistic director Stephen Zacks, “What do you have to do really (really) well to achieve success with your initiative?”

ZACKS: Art is now expected to serve, produce economic growth, solve social ills. It can and should attempt to do these things when it can. But it still has to honor the spirit of human freedom that made it a revolutionary force during the Romantic age. The work has to inspire–create a magical experience—or else it cannot do anything.

That’s why it’s been such a pleasure having an artist like Stefan Eins in the city. Eins takes his inspiration from found objects, paint splotches on sidewalks, cracks in pavement created by the effects of natural forces on concrete, graffiti on buildings. In the early 70s, his sensitivity to how social change is expressed through physical forms drew him to a group of artists who identified Soho—then still a mostly abandoned 19th century industrial district—as a space where a new way of living could emerge. The live/work artist loft was just being born, and he opened an artist-run gallery on the ground floor of 3 Mercer Street, one of the first of its time. Then, in 1978, he recognized a new community emerging from the ashes of urban renewal in the collapsing buildings of the South Bronx. Hip hop and graffiti soon blossomed into an international phenomenon.

This August, Eins came to Flint as a part of our program and witnessed a different kind of rebirth taking place on the grounds of former factory complexes: bioremediating plants growing out of factory foundations, technological innovation given a foothold at a 3D fabrication laboratory, a coalescence of a new spirit of invention in the reuse of vacant lots for urban gardens.

ARTPLACE: How do you expect the community to change as a result?

ZACKS: Flint Public Art Project is engaged a small local movement against the refeudalization of our society—the fraying of liberal norms and values through the assertion of power by oligarchies. When the Supreme Court made money a form of speech, it indirectly muted the voice of individuals.

In Flint, this is reflected in the dependence of almost every institution in the city on a single source of revenue. It used to be General Motors: now it’s the nonprofit sector. For all the good produced by these initiatives, the top-down distribution of funding has caused some residents to start asking, ‘OK, what’s our role in public processes? We come to these meetings and express our thoughts and feelings, we vote, and then who decides?’

Public art can be a form of expression that enables residents to act out their ideas in public space immediately, without permission from any grant, elected official, bureaucracy, or marketing campaign. Public art returns art to the original inspiration of the Romantic poets: not as the personal expression of an artist, but as a primal revolt of society against the cultural stagnation that comes from humans not able to exercise their free will, their ability to transform the world through action.

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