The fabric of life

ArtsWestchester is taking public art to new heights — literally.

In a collaboration with artist Amanda Browder, the top of the arts organization’s 9-story Arts Exchange headquarters in downtown White Plains will be sheathed in a colorful canopy that will cascade along its sides.

Browder is a textile artist in Brooklyn who includes the local community in her large-scale public exhibitions, which have appeared across the nation. According to her mission statement, “The overarching goal is to involve individuals and groups in the mystery of creation. Volunteerism of local citizens and artists is a segue to creating familiarity in contemporary art as well as the individual nature of the neighborhood itself.”

As for the ArtsWestchester installation, she said, “The playful artwork will be a colorful, quilt-like textile.” The artist will design and fabricate the artwork, working with ArtsWestchester to organize fabric drives, public sewing days and block parties throughout Westchester and Rockland counties. 

It’s as if Christo met The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

WAG had a lot of questions about this endeavor, so we sought out Janet Langsam, CEO of ArtsWestchester, for answers.

Who came up with the idea of draping the ArtsWestchester building in fabric?

“At ArtsWestchester, we are great fans of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, a married artistic couple who did monumental works of art situated in the environment and uniquely a commentary on the environment. I was deputy commissioner of Cultural Affairs in the ’70s when they approached the city administration to do ‘The Gates’ project in Central Park. It took many years for them to get the permission to make it happen. I admired their monumental vision and the way they positioned their artworks at iconic locations such as the Reichstag. What was so interesting to me was the way their work was about both the process and the product.

“Years later, on a visit to the Pelham Art Center, I saw an installation by Amanda Browder that connected me back to the ideas of ‘The Gates,’ which the artists finally executed in 2005. Fast forward… in 2016, Amanda Browder was taking her colorful interventions to a new level in wrapping the Albright-Knox (Art Gallery) in Buffalo, New York. This project caught our attention… Could we do that here?”

 

Why?

 “ArtsWestchester’s building is a nationally registered historic landmark. It is the first skyscraper in White Plains, built in 1928 and embellished with ornate detailing that signaled the opulence of the Roaring Twenties and the promise of suburban living. The building survived the Great Depression and subsequent waves of urban renewal.

“Over 20 years ago, we acquired the building and transformed it into an incubator for the arts. Today, it is home to independent artists, small creative businesses, coworking space and our series of exhibitions, programs and performances. It’s a bustling and creative place. Recently, we’ve been looking at how we can communicate what’s happening inside our building to the streetscape outside. In 2018, in partnership with the city of White Plains, the WPBID and Kite Realty, we commissioned legendary street artist Wane One to paint a ‘welcome mat’ in the drop-off lane on Mamaroneck Avenue. At the same time, White Plains is undergoing its own transformation. The Metro-North station has been rehabbed and will soon include major public art. New mixed-use
developments are coming into town. Inspired by the economic impact of projects like the Wynwood Walls, property owners and investors are keen to consider how public art may both distinguish their properties and help give White Plains a distinct identity as a cultural hub.

“ArtsWestchester is leading the way.”

What led you to Amanda Browder?

“Amanda’s works are unique. They are as monumental as Christo in aspiration but are fundamentally about and connected to the community. Everything you see in the finished works has been ‘crowd-sourced.’ The fabric is collected through community fabric drives. The sewing will be done by volunteers from all walks of life, from every corner of the county during public sewing days. The completed textile sculpture takes a form of a multistory quilt that is a portrait of every person who was part of the project. People will be able to look up at our 9 stories and point to a band of color and say: ‘I stitched that’ or ‘That piece of fabric came from my mother’s attic.’ It’s an incredibly powerful statement of how art can, excuse the pun, stitch communities together.” 

 

Have you determined how much fabric you will need?

“A lot. There is no such thing as too much. ArtsWestchester’s building is 9 stories high, and the piece will cover portions of both visible facades. We invite members of the public to donate colorful, nonstretchy fabrics to the project. What we need — fabrics with patterns, cotton, rayon, velvet, nonstretchy materials that are opaque. Fabrics that we do not want are stretchy fabrics, transparent fabrics, as well as clothing.”

What is the timeline from start to placement on the building?

“After a year of planning, sewing days will happen at ArtsWestchester and partner sites from October 2019 through April 2020. The piece will be installed over three to five days in May, and officially unveiled on May 14th with our annual ArtsBash Party. The piece will be on view for six to eight  weeks depending on the weather. We will also open an exhibition in our gallery of the work of other contemporary textile artists.

“We are excited to be working with Mount Vernon-
based American Christmas. They are lending their incredible expertise as our project manager. As I’m sure you can imagine, a project like this has many moving parts — city permits, riggers, installation hardware, fireproofing. They are a wonderful partner.”

 

Who is funding this installation?

“To date, ArtsWestchester has a $49,500 grant from The New York State Council on the Arts to fund this project. We are currently in the process of raising another $150,000 in private funds. Companies, foundations and individuals interested in supporting this major public art commission can contact me at ArtsWestchester.”

If you’ve got fabric to donate or time to sew, visit amandabrowder.com and artwestchester.org.

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