Public Art Saint Paul receives grant to commission new Wing Young Huie work on University Avenue

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Two weeks ago, Public Art Saint Paul announced that it had been awarded a 2008 Joyce Award—the sole Joyce Award in the visual arts this year. The award carries a $50,000 grant to support the commission of a new work of public art. In this case, the award will pay for a major installation along University Avenue by local photographer Wing Young Huie.

The Chicago-based Joyce Foundation sponsors the annual Joyce Awards, which give Midwest cultural institutions financial support to commission works by artists of color. Over five years, the foundation has awarded $1 million to leading Midwestern arts organizations and presenters.

Public Art Saint Paul works with public agencies and private institutions to commission new public art works and to clean and restore historic works of public art. The proposed St. Paul exhibit, University Avenue, U.S.A., will take place from May through October of 2010. Using LCD projectors to project images in store windows, the six-mile gallery will display 360 photographs in 12 locations. The show will begin at twilight each evening and run until dawn. According to Huie, the photographs will reflect the complex cultural and socioeconomic diversity of the neighborhoods along University Avenue. He is hoping to incorporate citizen photographers, community events, and educational opportunities as well.

“The project is still a ways off, and my work tends to evolve as I photograph. Mostly, I love hitting the streets and meeting people, talking to them. That’s why I do it.”

Huie has received international attention for his many projects documenting the cultural landscape of Minnesota, his home state. Huie is well known for his Lake Street exhibit in Minneapolis seven years ago, which is described as being one of the most significant public art projects in Minnesota. In that exhibit, Huie displayed 675 photographs in windows along Lake Street. Huie is anticipating that University Avenue, U.S.A. will be even more meaningful.

“The Lake Street Project was so intense and time consuming, it took years to get into place. When I finished, I thought, I’d never do that again—it’s been done. But, when Christine [Podas-Larson, executive director of Public Art Saint Paul], spoke with me about a St. Paul project, this idea began to form. [This time] I’m interested in something more thematic.”

Public Art Saint Paul anticipates that this project will promote community dialogue and connect the many disparate neighborhoods along University Avenue in a literal manner. “This project is really an evolution of Wing’s community-based work, pieces that attempt to redefine our cultural landscape,” says Podas-Larson. “It will challenge Wing’s ideas of implementing photography in the public sphere, and, further, realize possibilities for societal impact, particularly regarding issues of race and socioeconomic diversity.”

The expectation is that University Avenue, U.S.A. will have economic impact on businesses along University Avenue during the course of the exhibition, and may have longer-term implications for the city’s economic development along the Central Light Rail Corridor in the future.

Betsy Mowry (betsy.mowry@hotmail.com) works as an arts administrator with COMPAS and the Arts & Culture Partnership of St. Paul.

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