Have you ever watched the news and had that feeling? You know, the one where you’re leery of everything going on in the world? Or the one where you’re cynical about what’s being done about it, but you have no solution to offer?
If you’ve ever felt that and wondered, “I wish someone would do something about that.” or “I wish there was something good they could talk about.” or maybe you just complained. Get a cup of coffee. Sit down. Read. Because I’m about to tell you about a group of people working hard to change the image of Flint, Michigan for its own residents (and the world). A group of people who aren’t waiting around for someone else to fix the problem, they’re working hard now to create the changes they want to see. Grassroots-style.
Flint is a place where media reports more commonly associate it with the word “dangerous” than with the word “cultural”. A city where the art piece it’s most known for is Michael Moore’s documentary Roger and Me. So it might be hard to imagine Flint as a place where you could stroll down a street to look at local modern art installations after having a gourmet meal. Images like that are more often reserved for places like San Francisco or New York City. Which is no coincidence really, since Flint residents Eric Hinds and Desiree Duell are implementing a model used by those cities to revitalize their own: The Flint Public Art Project.
Taking the reins from project kick-starter, Stephen Zacks (a reporter from New York and native of Flint), Hinds and Duell are hoping The Flint Public Art Project will bring cultural relevance and create a new image for the town. The multi-phased venture is focused on bringing development into the city over the next ten years, starting with small-scale, temporary art installations and ending with permanent cultural institutions.
If the project is going to be the shining beacon of the city’s new image, then July 8th, 2011 officially (and literally) turned on the lights.
The Genesee Towers is Flint’s tallest high-rise. The last business vacated the premises in 2001, leaving it dark and abandoned. The project directors, in collaboration with city officials, decided to make a statement that these disused spaces could be brought to life by showcasing dancers and hula-hoopers in lit up windows while video and photography projections played on the building’s exterior. For the first time in years, Flint residents saw life and light coming from the abandoned tower.
“This was the signal post. We turned on the lights and opened eyes that unused space doesn’t have to be run down. It can be revitalized.” ~Eric Hinds
Rolling with the success of the small-scale event (local businesses reported a fifteen percent increase in revenue compared to previous years during ArtWalk), Hinds and the other project planners are implementing three more art installation projects to cap off the first phase.
The first of these, Return to the Future of Now, a street performance spectacle, will take place on Friday, August 12, 2011. The event is designed to pull citizens from the pockets of downtown they are used to in order to showcase areas which could be significant again. The parade of art and performance will celebrate the city’s history, expose the city as it is today and hopes to inspire citizens to create a new future.
The next will be a large-scale performance art piece during the Back to the Bricks car event in Flint on Friday, August 19, 2011. The installment will reactivate Chevy in the Hole (the location of the famous 1935 sit-in which created the UAW). The abandoned site was once the home to GM and the Fisher Body Plant but now sits empty, waiting to be reused. The project will feature 77 drummers, sculptures, video art projected onto white cars, dancers and music. The installation will represent the rebuilding of the city after the auto industry vacated, once again showing citizens that these disused sites can have purpose.
The last project of the first phase will culminate on November 11th, 2011, featuring visiting artists from New York City and will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Chevrolet Motor Company.
In times where it seems easy to focus on the negative, it’s refreshing to see a city rebuild with a focus on the possibilities. All from the ideas and hard work of the people who live there. Flint is making a statement: it will not allow bad press to color its image permanently, it’s going to let the efforts of the citizens speak for themselves. Flint is a place where things are happening and we could all take notes. Do you want to see change? Make it. Any way you can. Maybe we don’t have direct voices in government policy, or even corporate policy, but we can build sculptures, we can light buildings, we can inspire ourselves. We can be the change.
“Instead of talking about the small percentage [of residents] who migrate every year, we’re talking to the people who live and work in the city. We are asking residents, artists and elected officials: What kind of cultural project could be useful to you? Which places would you like to see transformed? Then we’re doing it.” ~Flint Public Art Project Team