Two artists covertly build and “land” a spaceship in the center of town, sparking a crowd to gather, interact and investigate. The gathering itself becomes part of the phenomenon. A dialogue is spawned among strangers in the community—people of different walks of life who might not otherwise speak, or even meet. The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative has considered promoting this kind of rogue art project to instigate community socialization. But don’t start scouring the city for UFOs just yet—the group’s latest work is something much earthier and closer to home. It’s an interactive community portrait installation called “WE PEOPLE,” and it will show up in various public spaces throughout town this week.
The Bridge collaborated with New York-based artists David Ellis, a “motion painter,” and Joey Garfield, a documentary filmmaker, to develop a portrait of Charlottesville from photos and interviews of local folks. A cross-section of the community is represented in the piece, from lesser-knowns (local residents of neighborhoods like Westhaven and Belmont) to better-knowns (Police Chief Tim Longo and Monticello President Daniel Jordan). Ellis developed the photos into an animated painting designed to be projected on a 12′ x 9′ structure (described by Bridge founder Greg Kelly as looking like “a giant salad bowl balanced on its side”). The other side of the structure will feature a second projection: A looping documentary, created by Garfield, assembled from interview footage of locals talking about such topics as community, identity, social progress and development. It’s an art project that, in a sense, makes the entire city a gallery, and “speaks of and to the community,” explains The Bridge co-founder Zach Worrell.
As part of WE PEOPLE, The Bridge is also presenting a screening of Garfield’s documentary Breath Control: The History of the Human Beat Box on Wednesday at Satellite Ballroom. The film is a study of hip-hop music, and what Garfield calls the ultimate “you can’t do it alone” type of artistic endeavor. (See GetOutNow, starting on page 26, for a detailed schedule of WE PEOPLE events.)
This week’s programming marks The Bridge’s most ambitious project to date, and seems to come closest to delivering on its mission to “strengthen and enrich community through collaborative interaction in the arts.” (Past projects have included a short film festival curated by Virginia Film Festival Director Richard Herskowitz, a screening of Kevin Fitzgerald’s documentary Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme and art exhibitions at a temporary space in Belmont called New Art Across the Bridge.) Local entrepreneur and philanthropist Worrell says he and artist Kelly founded the organization in 2004 to “tap into, serve and collaborate with various demographics to create and view art,” as well as to bridge the gap among disparate social groups. But don’t think for a second that Kelly and Worrell are just overly ambitious do-gooder types. As Kelly says, “It’s not about changing people, but about sparking an exchange.”