Renowned Artists Presenting Installations Include Rick Lowe and The Greenwood Art Project, Carlos Ramirez, and Swoon
ARLINGTON, VA; January 25, 2021 – PBS and RadicalMedia today announced the launch of an original public art initiative as part of the public broadcaster’s 50th anniversary crowdsourced storytelling project, PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT. Consisting of three large-scale installations created by distinguished artists Rick Lowe and the Greenwood Art Project, Carlos Ramirez, and Swoon (Caledonia Curry), the art projects will be showcased on stationary and roaming vehicles in three U.S. cities: Tulsa, Oklahoma; Dallas, Texas; and New York City.
The PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT Public Art Initiative explores how personal stories help construct identity across the United States. The three projects amplify personal narratives and tell stories that aim to create community, empathy and understanding. Each project was inspired by and expands on the central themes of the larger PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT initiative, which asks, “What does it really mean to be an American today?”
Housed and displayed on vehicles, the art similarly references American stories in motion, from nomadic migrant laborers in search of better lives and the long journey towards racial justice to the hustle and bustle of everyday life inside our own homes. The outdoor format is also constructed with safety and social distancing considerations to engage audiences during the pandemic, bringing the artwork directly to the three communities.
“When building PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT, we aimed to elevate the voices of people in communities across the country,” said Bill Margol, PBS Senior Director, General Audience Programming and executive in charge of PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT. “These three installations shed light on the memories and histories of each of these communities, exploring traditions, values and legacies. We believe audiences will be surprised by their novel and distinct forms.”
"Collaborating with artists to elevate storytelling by everyday people all across the country allows us to engage the public in ways that are original, provocative and resonant," said James Spindler, Creative Director for the project at RadicalMedia. “Through the singular and visionary perspective of artists, we can further amplify the voices of Americans everywhere in a way that is inclusive and engaging.”
This project marks the first time that PBS has commissioned original art of this magnitude for a national public art initiative. Since its launch in January 2020, PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT has offered multiple gateways for audiences to engage with the project. The public art initiative offers yet another visual outlet for different communities to interact with the narratives that emerged from submissions collected over the last year. Its launch is timed to the PBS broadcast of the four-part docuseries PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT on Tuesdays in January (check local listings).
Below are more details on the themes, logistics and intricacies for each project.
The G.A.P. Van by Rick Lowe and Greenwood Art Project
January 18 – May 15, 2021 in Tulsa, Oklahoma
The G.A.P. Van is a multi-use, collaborative mobile art exhibition, workshop space and crosstown poster project that will engage residents of Tulsa as the city approaches the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. This project is led by Rick Lowe, a 2014 MacArthur Fellow known for reinventing community revitalization as an art form. The acronym G.A.P is a reference to the R&B group GAP BAND. The acronym stands for Greenwood/Archer and Pine, their home and the boundary streets of historic Greenwood, popularly known as America’s “Black Wall Street” and the site of one of the most devastating racial massacres in the country’s history.
"Our goal has been to provide a platform for all Tulsans to speak about the history, present and future of their city as they commemorate the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre,” Lowe said. “The G.A.P Van will solicit and display posters that will represent and speak to how the story of Tulsa fits within the American story.”
The G.A.P. Van will travel across Tulsa as an homage to the city, asking residents to use their stories and voices to advance a powerful, healing approach to commemoration and memorial. A truly community-engaged and -led project, G.A.P. will invite residents to create posters that share stories about the massacre and its ongoing meaning for the city and the country. They will be featured on a rotating outdoor gallery retrofitted to the vehicle’s exterior walls. This project will have the longest and furthest span, covering a 150-mile radius of Tulsa over four months.
The G.A.P. Van Credits: The G.A.P. Van was conceived and orchestrated by Rick Lowe, William Cordova, Jerica Wortham, Marlon Hall, Kode Ransom and Jeff Van Hanken, with posters submitted by artists and participants in the Tulsa area.
Altar to a Dream by Carlos Ramirez
January 29 – February 14, 2021 in Dallas, Texas
Carlos Ramirez's paintings and sculptures are rooted in his Mexican American heritage and pop culture, often speaking of the inequalities within Mexican American communities and championing the common man as the underdog. Taking the experience of migrant populations as a central focus, Ramirez will enshrine a full-sized vintage car in a colorful homage to the nomadic laborers and their families who traveled in cars laden with all their worldly possessions as they worked the agricultural growing seasons in the United States.
"In every story, journeys have always begun with a single step,” Ramirez said. “Altar to a Dream is a visual and celebratory nod to the many steps that nomadic laborers in the U.S.—and really, across the globe—have taken to secure better lives for their families. This pursuit of happiness, beyond our founding document, is an aspiration that is infused with individual and community-specific meaning, which has shaped and been woven into the American story. As a personal dialogue Altar to a Dream is seen through the eyes of my mother. While it is an intimate tale and exploration of a now lost time and place, it continues to frame how we look at our past and our future.”
The vehicle’s exterior will feature painted text and original drawings, mixed-media ephemera, and additional artifacts stacked on the rooftop. The vitrine-style encasing transforms the car’s everyday objects into an archeological haul of sacred items of great cultural value, while allowing audiences to engage safely and observe from every angle. A portion of the encasing box and adjacent walls will contain a mural painted with bright colors that relate to other migratory vehicles and the shared experience of the farming community’s migrant workers. The project dignifies the life experience of immigrants, with a particular lens on the migrant worker, often excluded from the dominant narratives of American identity.
Altar to a Dream credits: Studio Management: Marnie L. Navarro; Fabrication: Steve Webster Studio; Onsite Support: The Box, Dallas and Crocker Crane, Irving.
The House Our Families Built by Swoon (Caledonia Curry)
January 30 – February 28, 2021 in New York City
Caledonia Curry, whose work appears under the name Swoon, is a Brooklyn-based artist who is widely credited as the first woman to gain large-scale recognition in the male-dominated world of street art. Traveling across New York City over four weekends as a roving, diorama-styled sculpture constructed atop a 14-foot box truck, The House Our Families Built features a series of intricate cutaways and paintings inspired by the domestic scenes in the PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT archives. Employing her signature aesthetic, Curry evokes the intimacy of home life for inquisitive passersby to discover as it moves throughout New York City.
“The House Our Families Built will create moments of public reflection about what legacies we carry forward into this new future we are building, and what legacies we make a conscious choice to leave behind,” Curry said. “My collaborators have distilled hundreds of stories into a glimpse of American life that begins at the dinner table and travels deep inside who we are, via the things we struggle to overcome. The fantastical truck-turned-sculpture is there to draw us in, to echo the many shapes that home takes. The stories that filter through it are what connect and hold us. "
The sculpture will be activated throughout its run by several performers, who will recite reflections from user-generated narratives in the PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT database. Amplifying the recurring themes and individual voices in the series, the work offers moments of reflection amongst the motion of everyday life and invites a broad, diverse audience to consider the significance and resonance of intergenerational stories and experiences.
The House Our Families Built was conceived and orchestrated by Caledonia Curry. Performances developed by Jeff Stark and Irene Lazarides. Project management by Marshall LaCount, with fabrication by Orien McNeill and Zack Tucker.
In addition to the public art initiative, PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT has engaged additional artists to help bring to life and share stories submitted by people throughout the country over the last year, including:
- The crowdsourced poetry project “For My People,” curated by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey in partnership with the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and
- Original murals featuring quotes from user submissions to PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT are under construction on streets in seven U.S. cities.
Please visit the PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT website at www.pbs.org/americanportrait and follow the conversation at #AmericanPortraitPBS on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to view the thousands of stories already being submitted.
Target is a major funder and national promotional partner for PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT, expanding the reach of this initiative. Additional funding is provided by Anne Ray Foundation.
PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT was developed and created with RadicalMedia. Jon Kamen and Dave Sirulnick serve as Executive Producers, and Naomi Gilbert is the Senior Interactive Producer for the web platform. Craig D’Entrone is Executive Producer and showrunner on the project. Michèle Stephenson is Series Producer. Bill Margol is the Executive in Charge for PBS. The public art project credits include James Spindler, Creative Director; Kim Hastreiter, Curator; Rebecca Blumhagen, Producer; Sam Giarratani, Art Project Manager; Marcus Grewe, Line Producer; and Marisa Bippus, Production Manager.
About PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT
Launched on January 10, 2020, PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT, a national storytelling project aligned with PBS’s 50th anniversary celebration, is the organization’s most ambitious multiplatform project in its history. A digital-first initiative produced with RadicalMedia, AMERICAN PORTRAIT began by engaging Americans to share their experiences, hopes and values on the web platform. The project evolved to include a digital miniseries titled SELF-EVIDENT; several public art installations and murals in neighborhoods across America; educational materials on media and storytelling from PBS LearningMedia; and three broadcast specials that aired throughout 2020. In addition, hundreds of videographers across the country collected submissions from their respective communities, helping to grow the reach of the project. The project will also put forth a published book following the release of the highly anticipated four-part documentary series. Leveraging the local reach of PBS through its member stations, PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT presents a mosaic of our country’s diversity by connecting tens of thousands of people across the country, creating a communal voice through individual stories of joy, hardship, triumphs and sorrow. Participants tell and share their own stories, and see the stories shared by a wide panorama of people across America, united by a series of prompts that will serve as conversation starters, including: “I was raised to believe…,” “The tradition I carry on is…,” “What keeps me up at night is…,” “When I step outside my door…” and “Most days I feel…,” among others like, “I never expected…,” added in response to COVID-19, “Now is the time…” added to encourage people to share their stories about race in light of the events of the summer. The prompts “Now is the time…,” “My American dream…,” “To me, work means…,” “My life right now…,” and “I stand for…” were added more recently to collect submissions for the upcoming PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT docuseries.
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RadicalMedia produces premium content across all media platforms. With offices in New York, Los Angeles, London, Berlin, and Shanghai, RadicalMedia is a global media and communications company that creates and produces television, feature films, commercials, live events and interactive design. RadicalMedia is fluent in each and every discipline of storytelling, with accolades that include Oscar ®, Emmy ®, Peabody ® and Grammy ® Awards. Noteworthy programming includes Netflix’s first original documentary film, the Oscar-nominated and Emmy-Winning What Happened, Miss Simone?; Academy-Award Winning The Fog of War; Paradise Lost; Hamilfilm for Disney+; Hamilton's America and In The Heights for PBS; History Channel’s number one miniseries of all time, GRANT; Black Woodstock, directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Untitled Mental Health series with Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry for Apple TV+, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich for Netflix; The multi-platform project; PBS’ American Portrait, National Geographic’s Activate: A Global Citizen Movement; and David Byrne’s American Utopia, directed by Spike Lee, coming to HBO later this fall. Check out the latest work on Instagram and at www.radicalmedia.com.