Two projects led by the City of Alexandria’s Office of the Arts were recognized among the nation’s top public art endeavors in 2017. Americans for the Arts selected them from more than 200 applications. The Public Art Year in Review is the only national program that specifically recognizes the most compelling public art in the United States. For the 2017 awards, 49 total projects were selected from across the country.
The two awards honored DC-based performance artist Sheldon Scott’s the Finest Amenities as well as Centennial of the Everyday by Baltimore-based artists Lauren Frances Adams and Stewart Watson. Both were part of the inaugural Time & Place series, which invited regional artists to use Gadsby’s Tavern as their main source of inspiration. The program sought to examine and explore Alexandria’s multi-layered and complex history through the lens of contemporary art.
“The Office of the Arts is deeply honored to have two public art projects be named among the best in the U.S.,” said Diane Ruggiero, deputy director of recreation, parks and cultural activities. “Time & Place is still very new, but this award is a testament to the wonderful collaboration between the Office of the Arts, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and the Office of Historic Alexandria, and the artists. We are excited to bring this award-winning project back to the City in 2019. There are more stories yet to tell.”
Launched in 2017, Time & Place is a series of periodic, curated exhibitions of temporary public art located in Alexandria’s historic sites and museums. Scott, Adams and Watson were invited to create research-based, thought-provoking temporary public artwork that fostered exploration and dialogue about the City’s history from the lens of Gadsby’s Tavern.
In the Finest Amenities, Scott was inspired by the history of harvesting ice from the Potomac River and the storage and use of ice at Gasby’s Tavern. His work examined the relationships between race, class, environment, luxury, privilege and consumption.
In a site-specific performance, Scott arrived in Alexandria by rowboat and transported a large block of ice to Gadsby’s Tavern Museum in a wooden wheelbarrow. He walked barefoot along the alleyways, as was the traditional path, and was accompanied by living statues on his journey. Once at the Museum, the ice was strapped to Scott’s back and he crawled to the ballroom where a decadent feast was set for one person. The living statues chipped away at the ice for it to be served in punch for the other performers as well as the audience to consume.
Adams and Watson spent months researching the people associated with Gadsby’s Tavern over its 200-year history. Their exhibition focused on domestic goods that would’ve been part of 18th and 19th century daily life, which they melded with 21st century themes and media.
For example, in the Private Dining Room at the Museum, an embroidered napkin showed the map of unmarked graves of the “negro burying ground” at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. In the Female Stranger’s room, they created new bed curtains that features silhouettes of anonymous women and incorporated it into a centennial pattern from 1876. Small video screens were tucked into contemporary stoneware vessels created with early American motifs.
More than two dozen site-specific interventions sat beside the historic objects in Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and told the stories of women, enslaved people, and anonymous visitors who are often overshadowed by the more historically famous visitors, like George Washington.
“Public art creates a sense of civic vitality in the cities, towns, and communities we inhabit and visit,” said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. “The best of public art can challenge, delight, educate, and illuminate. As the 2017 Public Art Network Year in Review selections illustrate, public art has the power to enhance our lives on a scale that little else can. I congratulate the artists and commissioning groups for these community treasures, and I look forward to honoring more great works in the years to come.”
Learn more about Alexandria’s public art program via alexandriava.gov/publicart.
(via City of Alexandria Office of the Arts. Photo by Michelle Goldchain/East City Art.)