Each year, UVA’s student-run Arts Board Committee invites an artist to the University of Virginia. This year, in collaboration with the visual studio arts program, the students have invited New York-based artist Ed Woodham, founder and director of Art in Odd Places, a collaborative arts festival. Woodham will give two talks this month on the significance of art in public space, and in the spring he’ll collaborate with students, artists and the community to create an Art in Odd Places festival in Charlottesville.
Woodham says he created AiOP 13 years ago as “a challenge to the paradigm of homeland security after 9/11” when public space became much more regulated. Creating art in public spaces, he says, is a way of reclaiming those spaces and recognizing their importance “within the workings of our democracy. It’s where we gather and brush shoulders and come up with new ideas despite socioeconomic status, gender, race, persuasion,” he says. “It’s where we can be together, be change-makers.”
Now, he says, it’s also become about moving art from galleries, museums and theaters to make it more accessible to everyone, regardless of education or interest. There, in those public spaces, he hopes to interrupt the daily lives of passersby, to prod them out of their routine and inspire them to notice something new.
AiOP’s past installations have included crocheted snowflakes by Crystal Gregory inserted between barbed wire on a city street fence, and a performance piece called “White Trash” by Edith Raw, in which she dressed in transparent trash bags full of plastic bottles and other human-made trash. Woodham often contributes performance art to AiOP with whimsical and sometimes elaborate costumes that warrant a double take such as a Sasquatch-like suit or an all-white moving statue costume with a towering headdress.
In a 2014 TEDx Talk Woodham gave in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood, he said, “In public space art can be shared and explored with a more fully democratic audience. And there it opens up the potential and the possibilities of creativity and communication.”
Three years later, he still feels that way. “It’s certainly a time to rethink the status quo,” he says. “…it might be a piece of art that will make you see. It activates the space and activates you because things are different.”
The UVA Arts Board Committee had already selected Woodham when Charlottesville’s public spaces became the epicenter of debate about history, racism, violence and free speech this summer. Woodham says that after August 12, Charlottesville’s festival, AiOP: MATTER, “became a whole new project.” It’s an opportunity, he says, “for the community of Charlottesville to weigh in on what they think this project should be. We’re listening to the community, both artists and non- artists—changemakers—on what they think this project should be.”
His talks this month, as well as the design and execution of the festival in the spring, offer the opportunity to re-examine our public spaces and experience them through a new creative lens.