Jan 4, 2011

Flint Public Art Project

Downtown Flint (photo: Lisa Zacks)

Flint Public Art Project seeks to produce new images, temporary programs, small-scale installations, and permanent projects at strategic sites in Flint in collaboration with local artists, community advocates, cultural institutions, neighborhood associations, businesses, real-estate developers, and political leaders in the city. The project will capture and broadcast the identity of Flint by recognizing key features of the urban cultural landscape and connecting them to a larger narrative, transforming the street life and propagating new ideas for living in the city. We plan to produce a phased series of collaborative and community-based participatory cultural events, installations, demonstration projects, identity concepts, and programs for future institutions. The events and programs will contribute to the local culture, its community organizations, and its integral connections to contemporary practices in art, architecture, performance, urban design, landscape architecture, planning, and economic development. 

The project intersects with the formal master planning and visioning process being undertaken by the city government. The result will be experimental formations of public space at strategic sites throughout the city through participatory installations and performances, an overall vision for Flint, a permanent small-scale installation, and a concept for a large cultural project that can represent an image of the city and a possibility for the future. Outside of Flint, we  plan to produce a traveling exhibition that uses multiple art practices and design disciplines to examine the specificity of its urban condition and display proposals for its continued transformation.

About the Project
The project looks for ways to form connections between existing community groups, cultural institutions, historic landmarks, industrial brownfields, natural features and pieces of infrastructure, locating them as reference points in the landscape that together embody the identity of a place. It assumes an expanded concept of the downtown area that extends from Grand Traverse and Saginaw, the main streets through the center of town, past the Flint River to the site of the former Buick City manufacturing facility, and along Kearsley and Court streets from the University of Michigan Flint and Mott Community College to the former Chevrolet-Fisher Body factory. Between these areas, underdeveloped neighborhoods and highway overpasses form physical and psychological barriers that are potential sites of intervention or remediation.

Few reference points are available to situate the place. The film by Michael Moore, Roger and Me, about the closing of GM auto factories in the 1980s, is the most important one. While it may have left a negative image of the city, it also identified the place with an independent filmmaker who popularized the documentary form through a single-minded confrontation with power and personalized advocacy for fairness and economic justice. Many people recall having driven past Flint on the highway. Nothing they will have seen, no sign visible from the road, no institution recognizable to outsiders, no cult landmark motivated them to get off the highway and stop. Most young people leave Flint for college and never come back. This project will create a temporary destination and build foundations for landmarks that will truly reflect the history and future of the place.

Flint Public Art Project is meant to be partly critical, partly conceptual, partly pragmatic, and partly performative. It recognizes that there are deep, very real structural, economic, and geographic problems that cause Flint to remain isolated from cosmopolitan culture and the new economy. While manufacturing has continued to steadily decline, a number of auto parts plants, GM truck factories, and other remnants of the industrial economy have survived, and these remain central to the local economy. Although unions are seen as an impediment to companies seeking to establish new businesses in Flint, the unions associated with every auto facility are also part of the historical, cultural, and social fabric of the place. We are looking for ways to take advantage of existing institutions, historically important sites and special places to create new opportunities for transformation, ways of introducing connections to the outside and instigating cultural and economic development practices that have been effective in other places.

Flint is located approximately an hour’s drive from Detroit (the major city and metropolitan area), Lansing (the state capital and location of Michigan State University), and Ann Arbor (University of Michigan).

It has a small revived downtown area with a traditional main street, Saginaw Street, a historic  landmark theater, the Capitol, an alleyway with a few bars, the Torch and the Loft, the campus of the University of Michigan-Flint, and a small riverfront park landscape-designed by Lawrence Halprin

Local institutions such as the Flint Youth Theatre, Buckham Gallery, the Buick Gallery, the Flint Institute of Arts, and Local 432 are anchors of cultural life in the downtown area. The Farmers' Market is an essential gathering place three days a week on the edge of downtown. The Edible Flint Coop is an urban farming initiative that grows organic food in the city. 

We take areas of the city from Atwood Stadium and the Flint Farmers' Market to the north, Kettering University and the site of the historic Chevrolet-Fisher Body sit-down strike to the East, the Durant-Dort Carriage Factory and Saginaw Street in downtown Flint, and the former Central High School and the Buick Gallery in the Cultural District as sites for research, installation, programming, and performance.

Research Information for Participants
Flint River Corridor Alliance Planning Study - Sasaki Associates (PDF)  
Reimagining Chevy in the Hole - Chevrolet factory site study - Flint Futures Group, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan (PDF)  
Housing and Urban Development Neighborhood Stabilization Plan/ NSP3 (PDF) - Federal Demolition, Rehabilitation & New Construction Grant (Flint Journal report)

Recent News


This link references a map of the broader downtown area. http://maps.google.com/maps?f=s&ie=UTF8&ll=43.018658%2C-83.685007&spn=0.007562%2C0.027294&t=h&z=16 On the left side of the map, Saginaw Street is the main street through the downtown area, and the Cultural Center is to the right on the opposite side of the highway. If you toggle the map to the left, the large gray empty lot is the site of the former Chevrolet - Fisher Body plant, the site of the 1937 sit-down strike that resulted in the formation of the UAW. If you toggle to the north, you can see the site of the former Buick City manufacturing plant, the biggest brownfield site in the country.

Chevrolet-Fisher Body factory site (photo: Lisa Zacks)

Proposals may take the form of site-specific artistic interventions, sculptural installations, performance art events, classes and workshops, lectures, designs for new buildings, streetscape and billboard graphics campaigns, proposals for reuse or transformation of abandoned or underutilized buildings or sites, or urban design and landscape urbanism plans.

An invited group of artists, performers, architects, urban designers, graphic designers, and landscape urbanists will participate in a scouting and research expedition in which we tour sites, meet with groups of residents, community organizations, artists, and institutions, and spend time exploring the area. 

Participants will be paired with local artists, small businesses, college classrooms, municipal agencies, cultural organizations and institutional partners to collaborate in the generation of programs for installation, performance, education, building design, or urban design. The projects can be realizable in any media to interact with, provoke discussion about, or permanently impact the urban context. 

A weeklong series of participatory events will be organized to engage the community in rethinking areas of the city and engage the local community in contemporary art and architecture practices. The performance/ installation component will be open to proposals and encourage a wide range of voluntary responses by local, national, and international artists and designers. 

A second phase will develop one or more of the proposed projects into a small or larger-scale permanent installation.


First phase
Winter 2010/11 – Invitations to participate/ Initial grant applications
May 21 through June 21 – Site tour & call for proposals
July 1, 2011 – Preliminary project proposals
Summer 2011 – Project-based grant applications and fundraising
Labor Day through November 11, 2011 – Participatory events, discussions, temporary installations, performances
November 8, 2011 – Announcement of permanent installation/ sculpture/ building /urban design project to correspond to 100-year celebration of Chevrolet

Second phase
Winter, 2011/12 – Design and fundraising for selected projects/ touring exhibition/ book production
November 8, 2012 – Break ground on permanent small-scale installation

Third phase
November 8, 2013 - Announcement of program for large-scale cultural project


***NOTE: Many of the invited participants, collaborators, partners, advisors, grant sources, and sponsors listed below are unconfirmed, though most of them have been initially contacted and expressed an interest in participating. This project is open to other participants; please write to info@flintpublicartproject.com if you are interested in joining the research process or proposing something as a part of the program. This is a tentative draft proposal.***

Invited Participants
Tobias Armborst, Daniel D'Oca, and Georgeen Theodore of Interboro Partners
So-Il / Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu
Srdjan Jovanovic-Weiss, Normal Architecture Office/ School of Missing Studies
Susannah Drake/ Dland Studio
Behrang Behin/ Ennead
Vincent Appel, Medium
Thaddeus Pawlowski, urban designer
Quilian Riano/ DSGN AGNC
Cathlyn Newell, University of Michigan School of Architecture
Anne Renee Trumble/ Emerging Terrain
Min | Day + FACT
Kate Orff/ Scape
Matthias Neumann
Swoon/ Swimming Cities
Jeanne Gang/ Studio Gang
Mitch Cope and Gina Reichart, Design 99
Nahyun Hwang, University of Michigan College of Architecture
Andrew Herscher, Detroit Unreal Estate Agency, University of Michigan College of Architecture 
Trevor Paglen
David Cook/ Grimshaw Architects
Jon Lott, Para Project 
Michael Haggerty, urban planner
Diego Fernandez, artist
Dan Rockwell/ Studio 804
Andrew Zago
Gregory Tom
Hashim Sarkis, Harvard GSD 
CityBuild Consortium
Center for Land Use Interpretation
Madagascar Institute
Los Angeles Urban Rangers
James Rojas
Crimson Architectural Historians
Julia Czerniak/ CLEAR
Pierre Huyghe
Olafur Eliasson
Tino Seghal
Jiang Jun/ Urban China
Raf Kelman, performance artist
Sophia Cleary, performance artist
Noah Sheldon, photographer
Sean Hemmerle, photographer
Magda Biernat, photographer
Armin Linke, photographer
Allison Danielle Behrstock, artist
Lize Mogel, artist
Anthony Hamboussi, photographer
Teresa Herrmann and Pepin Gelardi, Contrail
Anne Marie O'Neill, artist
Wes Janz, architect and professor, Ball State University
Raphaele Shirley, light and installation artist 
Peter Kyle Dance, choreographer
Craig Wilkins, Detroit Community Design Center, University of Michigan College of Architecture
Museum of Contemporary Art - Flint
Dennis Maher, University at Buffalo SUNY, Department of Architecture
Sarah Palmer, photographer

The Torch, in Buckham Alley (photo: Lisa Zacks) 

Flint Artists and Collaborators
Joshua Kraus, artist, student
Freeman Greer, GAV & Associates, architecture professor, Baker College
Cristen Velliky, Assistant Professor of Art, UM-Flint; Director, UCEN Gallery
Jason Galvas, Flint Club
George Ananich, Architect, THA Architects
John Gazall, Gazall, Lewis & Associates
James Thigpen Jr., Closet Studio
Tim Monahan, Carriage Town Historic Neighborhood Alliance
Alan Harris, Creative Alliance
Guy Adamec, instructor, Flint Institute of Arts
Jessica Back, artist
Nayyirah Shariff, artisan and community advocate, Revolutionary Bread
Cade Surface, urban designer
Michael Ramsdell, Under the Hood Productions
Janet Haley, assistant professor of theater, U of M Flint
Stephen Landon, theater design professor, U of M Flint
Ryan Eashoo. talk show host
John V. Dempsey, painter and art professor, Mott Community College
Sarah Reed, photographer
Ben Hamper, writer and DJ
Jeremy Winchester, artistic director designate, Flint Youth Theater
Joel Rash, Local 432, music producer
Tom Hall, film festival producer
Jen Sikora, Buckham Gallery
Joanna Lehrman and Erin Caudell, Edible Flint Co-op
Natasha Thomas-Jackson, RAISE IT UP! Youth Arts & Awareness
Pharlon Randle, Bangtown Productions
Michael Moore, Dog Eat Dog Films

Edible Flint
Flint Planning Commission
Flint Community and Economic Development
Flint Art Fair
Flint Greek Festival
Michigan Renaissance Fair
Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad
Mott Community College
Baker Community College
UAW Local 598
UAW Local 599
UAW Local 659
UAW Local 651
Federal Building, 600 Church Street (616) 456-2367
Social Security Administration Building, 929 Stevens Street (616) 456-2367
Flint Truck Assembly
Flint Metal Center
Flint Tool & Die
GMPT Flint Engine South
GMPT Flint North
Grand Blanc Weld Tool Center

Longway Planetarium, in the Cultural Center (photo: Lisa Zacks)

Regional Partners 
Detroit Institute of Arts
Toledo Museum of Art
Great Lakes Urban Exchange
University of Michigan College of Architecture
Center for Creative Studies
Kent State University
Cranbrook Institute of Arts
Wayne State University
Michigan State University School of Planning, Design and Construction

National and International Partners

International Partners

Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Urban China

Media Partners

Architect’s Newspaper
Flint Journal
Detroit Free Press
Lansing State Journal
Ryan Eashoo Show
Urban Omnibus

Grant Sources

Corporate Sponsors

General Motors
American Express
AT&T Foundation
Bank of America Foundation
Comerica Foundation
DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund
Exxon Mobile Foundation
Ford Motor Company Foundation
General Motors Foundation
Kellogg’s Corporate Citizenship Fund
Masco Corporation Foundation
Mervyn’s Corporate Giving Program
Steelcase Foundation

Joel Rash, Red Ink Studios

Curator/ Producer
Stephen Zacks, Institute for Applied Reporting and Urbanism

Advisory council
Dayne Walling, Mayor of Flint
Tim Herman, Genesee Chamber of Commerce
Douglas Weiland, Genesee County Land Bank
Joel Rash, Flint Local 432
Jeremy Winchester, Flint Youth Theater
John Henry, Flint Institute of Arts
Michael Moore, director, Dog Eat Dog Films
Mark Robbins, Dean, Syracuse University School of Architecture
Monica Ponce de Leon, dean, University of Michigan School of Architecture
Olympia Kazi, Van Alen Institute
Adrienne Samos and Gerardo Mosquera, Ciudad Multiple
Srdjan Jovanovic-Weiss, School of Missing Studies/ Lost Highway Expedition
Tobias Armborst, Daniel D'Oca, and Georgeen Theodore of Interboro Partners
William Massie, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Architect-in-Residence
Kyong Park, International Center for Urban Ecology


  1. This seems like an excellent idea. I've posted a link below to a recent article I wrote about loft dwelling in north Brooklyn and what I view to have been the positive economic effect over the past 30 years of loft settlement by artists in this area. I'm not a loft dweller and never have been, but I view loft dwelling as one facet among many of the positive effect of artist settlement on the Brooklyn economy over the years.

    I am a "hipster pioneer" of Williamsburg. That said, I will not don my pith helmet and head out into the brownfields of Flint, Michigan like some dishwalla and condescend to know what is good for Flint, a city I've never visited. But I would like to visit Flint. I crave abandoned industrial landscapes! To me they are the last Serengeti of an otherwise disenchanted world. And in my quarter century in the industrial outback of Brooklyn I have found much silver lining in these places, to say nothing of priceless objects of beauty.

    The Flint Ecological Urbanism Project would seem to call first and foremost for a visit to Flint. We would have to meet the people and the place. We must find out what the artists and creative entrepreneurs in Flint are already doing, and ask them how we we might help.


  2. I am a student living in Flint, who moved here to seek refuge from the monotony numbness of the suburban fringe. I have found the city to be inspirational in its spirit. I am studying urban design, and I constantly draw on the direct influences fo the city that surrounds me....and many others are doing the same. I hope to see and hear more about this project soon.

  3. Please contact me through the information in my profile if you would be willing to join the project as a participant, volunteer, or assistant. We will very much need your help and the help of others like you. http://www.blogger.com/profile/11786479781103313711