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AU’s community-minded artists install public art project near Main St. fire site
4/20/12

On April 18, a team of community-based artists from Alfred University known as "Drawn to Diversity" (D2D) installed dozens of photographs on a brick wall in downtown Alfred, next to the now-vacant site of a major fire in fall 2009. Here are some of answers to questions being asked about the project:

What was the inspiration for this project?

D2D: A French artist named J.R. is world-renowned for these photo installations. He has used his art to address issues of riots in Paris, violence against women throughout Africa, and the Israeli Palestinian conflict. In 2011, he won the TED Prize. TED Talks focus on "ideas worth spreading." J.R.’s next idea, called Inside Out, was to invite communities around the world to install these photo-murals themselves in their own communities. See more of his work at www.jr-art.net.

What does anonymity have to do with this?

D2D: J.R.’s philosophy is the project is not about the artist but rather about the subject matter. In many instances, he avoids talking to the media but prefers the media seek out those photographed to discover the story behind the installation. Drawn to Diversity would prefer to provide this basic information requested and let the work talk for itself.

So what is the story behind the Alfred installation?

D2D: Maybe these people all have something in common that we’re not telling you. Perhaps you need to introduce yourself to all of them and try and find out if there is a common bond. Why were they selected? The easy answer is that they were selected randomly to represent the diversity of Alfredians; young and old, students and residents. Or maybe there is a bigger story yet to be discovered.

Is this art site-specific?

D2D: For many, this wall was the site of an event that brought the community together. The project also required permission and/or support from three different business owners as well as the village planning board. So using the site itself required great collaboration.

How long will it last?

D2D: These paper posters are stuck to the wall with wheat paste. They are not intended to last for more than a few years. Some of J.R.’s work has lasted upwards of four years but that was in hotter, drier climates. We will need to watch and see what effect the Alfred weather has on the work.

Will there be more photographs?

D2D: The current goal is to paste two rows per year. A second row will hopefully be installed in early summer. Each year, the team will assess the condition of the previous year and decide whether to replace a row or add two new rows.

How can I support the project?

D2D: For starters, we use a lot of wheat paste so next time you see us installing a row, please consider running home and making us some paste. (1 cup of flour mixed with 1 cup of cold water, then dumped into 3 cups of boiling water. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar, stir and you’re done!). We are also considering some fundraising efforts to help afford more posters. We will avoid "selling face space" because it goes against the fundamental core of the original artist’s intent and process.

Dan Napolitano, AU director of student activities, created the Drawn to Diversity program in 2005 as a service-learning project to teach history, inspire artists, cultivate dialogue, and fight ignorance through creative exhibits and programs. Drawn to Diversity’s mission aspires "to build an appreciation for diversity and to champion equality by exploring various media and art forms."

The program has since grown into including a credit-bearing course. Napolitano teaches a two-credit class in which students have formed partnerships with numerous community agencies and businesses.