Flint Public Art Project

Flint Public Art Project

Funding Received: 2012
Flint, MI
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
September 28, 2012

ArtPlace went behind the scenes with James Andrews, Jerome Chou, and Stephen Zacks of Flint Public Art Project on a typical day as they prepared for one of their fall programs. Jerome reported back on the day’s events, as ArtPlace asked the group to consider the following questions: What new challenge does engaging in creative placemaking present for you, your organization, and the artists who work with you? Are there new skills required?

Friday, September 14, 7:50am
We are sitting in the back of the Good Beans Café, just north of downtown Flint, waiting to meet Mayor Dayne Walling and Chief Planner Megan Hunter to talk about our big fall event: a three-day conference at the end of October bringing together artists, architects, urban planners, and community organizers with local residents and City officials to share best practices on urban revitalization. On the last day of the conference, we’re planning to hold a design charrette about Chevy in the Hole – a 130-acre, former GM manufacturing center in the heart of the city (and as fascinating as the name suggests).

The Mayor’s team arrives – his next meeting is in 30 minutes, we’re told - and asks us about our goals for the project. We explain that we’re not interested in telling them how they should be planning or designing the site, but rather to help facilitate discussion and give people a framework for understanding how to tackle a place like Chevy in the Hole, and the hundreds of others like it across the country. The site is big and contaminated; it has to be considered in phases, and its planning will require the input of many different groups, from regulatory agencies to community associations. In the meantime, we also want to work with local artists and residents to create temporary installations at the site next spring, to show that the site has the potential to be a great public space, even as it’s undergoing what will be a long-range transformation.

We think it’s a good sign that at 9:10am, the Mayor is still talking about ideas for the charrette. Before we go, we make plans to visit the site next week and come up with a list of key stakeholders we need to invite in October.

The key question at our next meeting is: how much is a parking space worth?

We’re working with Flint AIA – the local branch of a national association for architects – to plan a design competition for a huge downtown parking lot that hosts some of the city’s biggest public events. Our idea is to invite designers to create a temporary structure or installation that can provide shade, staging areas, and other infrastructure to help define space within the lot and support programming. Together with a core group of local architects, we’re preparing a presentation about the competition to deliver to downtown business leaders in two weeks.

Our biggest uncertainty is whether or not the owners of the lot will sacrifice some parking spaces to build the eventual competition-winning structure. We figure we might need eight spaces, possibly fewer; several of the slides show examples of structures that have a very small footprint. But we also have to show that these kinds of competitions don’t just generate ideas; they can, and have, created value for property owners by spurring business investment. The slides that make that argument are just as important as beautiful images of the structures’ potential forms.

Stephen is at a garage somewhere near Toledo – about 150 miles from Flint – waiting for a mechanic to fix the Spacebuster, a retrofitted ice cream truck that contains a huge inflatable dome that expands from the back of the truck. This is day four of Stephen’s epic journey to get the truck and its ancient transmission to Flint, with a pit-stop in Braddock, PA to do an installation there.

We’ve been debating for weeks how many events we can do with the Spacebuster on the way from NYC. Our project is based in Flint, but we want to place Flint’s story in its larger regional and national context. Then there’s also the constant tension: we want to do as many events as we can, with as many groups as we can, but don’t always have the capacity to match that ambition. We decide to go ahead with the Braddock event, which turns out to be a hit, but it means we’re down to the wire for the truck to make it to Flint in time for their monthly evening art walk.

Our Spacebuster event is winding down. Stephen and the truck arrived in time – both a little worn down but ready to go, and over the next three hours we hold a panel discussion about rebuilding abandoned homes and recovering their histories and watch as two artists from Detroit project images against the surface of the dome. Hundreds of people people stop inside the dome during the evening, many of them excited to get involved with the project. I flew in from NYC exactly 24 hours ago. It feels like a good day’s work.

Photo courtesy of James Andrews