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Sunday, 30 August 2015 22:00

Q&A: Paul Amenta, Curator, SiTE:LAB Inc.

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Paul Amenta, curator, SiTE:LAB Inc. Paul Amenta, curator, SiTE:LAB Inc. COURTESY PHOTO

As ArtPrize has grown each year in numbers, so too has the scale of many of the projects. SiTE:LAB’s annual, site-specific art installation is evidence of this. Each year, SiTE:LAB works with its curators and a group of global artists to take over a building for the duration of ArtPrize, allowing them to create a piece of art that complements the site. Coincidently, many of the previous SiTE:LAB locations have been redeveloped in the years after the installation. For example, the nonprofit worked with the former Grand Rapids Public Museum building on Jefferson Avenue that’s being eyed for a new high school, as well as The Morton House, which Rockford Construction Co. is redeveloping into apartments as well as retail space. MiBiz spoke with SiTE:LAB curator Paul Amenta about the group’s plans for the Rumsey Street Project, which will feature an installation covering an entire, largely vacant city block south of downtown Grand Rapids.

What are SiTE:LAB’s plans for this year?

We’ve partnered with Habitat For Humanity. Essentially, what they have done is acquired five acres of property on the southwest side of town in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, primarily on Rumsey Street between Century Street and Grandville Avenue. On that property are approximately 10 buildings including an auto body shop and a former church. Most of these buildings are slated to be razed for a project they are planning in 2017. We’ll actually be using this property this year and next year for our ArtPrize projects.

How does this project compare to others SiTE:LAB has done in the past?

We are going from one building to 10 buildings. It’s a much more extensive project. Essentially, what we are doing is we are giving over an entire building to an artist project, whether that’s an individual artist or a collaborative group.

Will the different installations have themes tying them together?

Not necessarily. I typically don’t do theme projects. It’s really about choosing artists that I like to work with or whose work I’ve been following. I let them respond to the context of the site — it’s history, current condition, architecture, (or) whatever the artist is interested in responding to. It’s less about tying them in thematically than it is about choosing the artist that makes sense for that particular site.

What does this year’s site and its various buildings lend to SiTE:LAB’s mission?

The goal is to look for sites that are clearly unique, challenging and sort of ramping up what we typically do already. It’s exciting for the artists to be a part of. It’s pretty rare that an artist gets to deal with an entire building and in many ways gets to do whatever they want with it because it’s slated to be torn down. Then, ultimately, it’s going to be exciting for the audience to come to an entire neighborhood and see all these projects taking over and engulfing these sort of vacant properties. I think it’s going to be a pretty spectacular sort of opportunity for an audience to see. These are really large-scale projects unlike anything that has happened in ArtPrize previously.

What else is unique this year?

We are just south of the official ArtPrize border … (as a) satellite venue, sort of similar to Meijer Gardens. I think ArtPrize sort of saw an opportunity to do something in a predominately Latino neighborhood and do some outreach. That’s sort of unique as well.

What attracted you to this area?

The unique aspect of this project is Habitat’s plans — it’s going to be low-income housing, but more importantly, it’s going to be this neighborhood project with a community center and a plaza. It’s not like they are moving a bunch of people out to put in high-price condos. This is a project that is all about the neighborhood. That is one of the reasons we decided to take on this project. It wasn’t a project that was dislocating people. All of these properties were vacant and Habitat is working closely with the neighborhood to figure out what they want to have happen. It’s interesting be a part of that dialogue. It’s pretty fascinating.

Do you believe that SiTE:LAB’s presence in the neighborhood for a few weeks can have an impact on the redevelopment?

I can’t claim that. I think Habitat’s goal is that having us here sort of shines a light on their ultimate goal. It allows people to understand what’s happening in the future. There will be a focus on this community, particularly during ArtPrize with all these visitors.

How can the community around the Rumsey Street Project benefit from it?

We are working with local restaurants, trying to get them engaged and understand that there will be this influx of people coming. We are hoping to be able to highlight the local food establishments from the neighborhood and any of the businesses that want to participate in any way. So there’s the immediate situation here. Long term, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes.

Read 2129 times Last modified on Monday, 28 September 2015 11:10

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