Free City Art Festival will return to Chevy Commons in Flint

By Scott Atkinson |
This article originally appeared on MLive.
March 21, 2015

FLINT, MI — Chevy Commons — the former manufacturing site once known as Chevy in the Hole — will again be the site for the Flint Public Art Project’s Free City Art Festival, an event that brings varied, and often off-beat, art installations.

“The logic of using the Chevy site was always to activate it in a temporary way,” said Stephen Zacks, director and founder of FPAP. Now in its third year, the Free City festival is returning in part due to the changes taking place at the site. The city and the Genesee County Land Bank have initiated a plan that will turn the gravel- and concrete-strewn space along the Flint River into a walkable park with trees, lawns and ponds.

“And also looking at the landscape and the city as a whole and how the city could become more connected and this site could become a place of connection across the city,” Zacks said.

The theme for this year’s festival is “Being Here.”

“(It’s) a response to the sense that, at least among my peers, we have a sense of being bombarded sometimes with media and social media and our smart phones and texts and all the different ways that we communicate, which are all great, and yet there’s a sense of disconnection sometimes with the value of being present in a specific place and time,” Zacks said. “So the idea is that artists could explore ideas about either presence or disconnection to presence in a particular place and time through installations and projections and performances.”

Artists from Flint and from as far away as Moscow have sent in proposals.

Rod Campbell, a Flint artist, already has his idea for this year’s festival.

“I’m going to put together the bare bones of a house. Like the peak of a house and the front of a house and I’m going to inset into the side of the hill,” he said, referring to a long embankment that runs through much of the site. “The idea would be that, this house was here, but this natural ravine started to encroach on it.”

Campbell recently returned to Flint and bought a 5,000-square-foot former garage for a studio after living in Detroit and other areas for about 15 years. When he came back to the city, he said he was pleased to see an arts scene he hadn’t seen when he left.

“I could see a synergy and I could see things going on in Flint I hadn’t seen in 15 years, maybe 20 years, maybe never,” he said, adding that he’s involved in several artists’ groups. “The more I got involved with different groups, the more I realized this was the place for me.”

Liza Bielby, a Detroit artist, was born in Flint but never spent much time in the city. She participated in the festival for its first two years (the second year was held in multiple locations throughout the city) and said for her it was a chance to experience the city that was part of her family’s history.

“My great-grandfather worked for Chevy at the site until he retired. My grandfather worked there, too, but quit because he hated it,” she said with a laugh. “For me, it was about family and family history, and I was interested in the vision of Stephen’s project, trying to give it (Chevy Commons) some different memories, or new memories in addition to what they already have.”

Zacks said he’s still not sure where future Free City events will take place. He’s thought about another brownfield, the site of the former Buick City, but said due to its sheer size he’s not sure how practical it would be.

“Obviously, Buick city is an enormous area that could be a focus of activity, but there are thousands of lots scattered throughout the city,” he said.

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