Outdoor Art Finds an Opening
A future without walls is on exhibit
By Zachary Smith
When the coronavirus hit, indoor museums and cultural exhibits were not the only arts venues that were shuttered.
Installations by Arts in the Park, a city program that’s exhibited 2,000 temporary public artworks for more than 50 years, were cancelled until June.
But once Arts in the Parks was deemed safe to operate again, the Parks Department was offered with a new opportunity spurred by the pandemic: hosting Photoville, the annual festival that normally took place in Dumbo’s Brooklyn Bridge Park, as a citywide event.
Photoville founders planned to expand the festival to all five boroughs in 2021 for its 10th anniversary. COVID-19 fast-tracked the move.
“Everyone is enjoying the parks. People are going out to their public spaces” said co-founder Laura Roumanos. “So even if there’s another lockdown, people are still going to be outside.”
Everyone is enjoying the parks. People are going out to their public spaces. So even if there’s another lockdown, people are still going to be outside.
Pre-pandemic, the two-week outdoor event attracted more than 40,000 visitors a year. Now, instead of displaying photography in the shipping-container galleries synonymous with Photoville, galleries were installed in parks across the city.
Visitors from past years were happy to see Photoville continue despite the pandemic.
“I was really excited about the fact that they still had it this year given, how everything else cultural and artistic has closed down,” said Brooklyn resident Milap Patel, 34.
The expansion also gave exhibitors a new opportunity to connect with a widespread audience. ⇒ cont.
At Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem, Novella Ford, curator of “In Our Season of Discontent, Count It All Joy,” presented by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, recalled how one viewer was moved by depictions of the Black experience.
“He was just amazed that the Schomburg even had these kinds of images in its collections,” Ford said. “And then to be able to experience it in the park because there were so few places at that point that were open in terms of exhibitions.”
The neighborhood locations provided a welcome respite from worries about taking public transportation amid the pandemic.
“I think it’s a great way of making Photoville accessible to all,” said Will Sheehan, who biked to the exhibit for the first time. “It’s a great way of providing public art during a stressful time.”
More outdoor exhibitions are in the works, as evidenced by the Parks Department’s plans for 2021. The availability of art in outdoor spaces highlights the important role it plays in urban life.
Bek Andersen, who created the MWTH (Medusa With The Head) project that first brought “Medusa with the Head of Perseus,” a sculpture by Luciano Garbati, to New York, said that the work—
It’s great that it’s giving people who are erring on the side of caution, like myself, the opportunity to break out of the monotony of just leaving the house to shop for groceries.
which now stands across the street from the Criminal Courthouse in lower Manhattan—has great meaning as public art.
“Even if people can’t go to the park, just knowing she was there is uplifting,” she said of the piece on display near the court where Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of sexual assault.
Brooklyn writer Mai Perkins sees outside art exhibits as a relatively safe activity and that helps break up days of isolation.
“It’s great that it’s giving people who are erring on the side of caution, like myself, the opportunity to break out of the monotony of just leaving the house to shop for groceries,” said Perkins, who visited Brooklyn’s Pier 2 Photoville exhibit.
Art lovers may be glad to know there is a strong link between seeing art and improved mental health.
“Interacting with art—whether it’s looking at it, touching it, creating it, listening to it — has stimulated biological reactions within the human body that promoted endorphins and others positive chemical reactions,” said Kristy Van Hoven, a researcher at the University of Leicester in England, who studies how museum programming helps with trauma recovery.
Meanwhile, the Parks Department has announced new installations across the city meant to “add warmth to the colder months.”
The new pieces include Nancy Baker Cahill’s augmented-reality exhibit “Liberty Bell” at Rockaway Beach in Queens. In Washington Heights’ Roger Morris Park, Andrea Arroyo’s “CoVIDA- Homage to Victims of the Pandemic” honored the lives of community members who died from the coronavirus.
Photoville, which will extend some current exhibits until March, plans to continue the new format in coming years.