By Steven Froias, Contributing Writer
Okay — “Summer Wind” by Ol’ Blue Eyes has little to do thematically with “Summer Winds” the kinetic outdoor public art installation coming to Custom House Square Park this July 1.
But there was simply no way State of the Arts was going to miss an opportunity to tip a fedora to the original Chairman of the Board.
The Chairman of the new Board, of DATMA — the Massachusetts Design Art and Technology Institute — is Roger Mandle. And it’s hard to imagine that he lacks any of the romance Sinatra brought to the game of life since he and his associates are introducing the wild concept of DATMA and “Summer Winds” to New Bedford and SouthCoast.
DATMA is defined as a non-collecting “museum” dedicated to large-scale, site-specific art installations. It was founded in 2016 with a diverse, 16-member board of trustees led by Mandle.
His bio states that he has 40 years of experience in building museums around the world and is a major contributor to the STEM to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) education initiative championed by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he served as president.
If you need some context regarding what, exactly, a non-collecting “museum” dedicated to large-scale, site specific art installations actually is, you’ve come to the right place. Actually, let’s travel back to another time and place to explore the subject…
The Gates & “Summer Winds”
Back in 2005, New York City was still a little shell-shocked from the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. It was a city that was still licking its wounds.
In the middle of winter, from Feb. 12 through Feb. 27 of that year, public art helped facilitate some desperately needed healing in a way that most initially thought improbable or even downright ludicrous.
Just over 7,000 deep saffron-colored nylon fabric panels were hung from ‘gates’ across 23 miles of pathway in Central Park. That’s it. Just colored fabric floating gently in the breeze
The world-renowned artists Christo Yavacheff and Jeanne-Claude, known jointly as Christo and Jeanne-Claude, were behind The Gates, as the exhibit was officially called. Indeed, they had worked for decades to bring the project to Manhattan.
Kudos must be given to Michael Bloomberg, mayor at the time, for facilitating the project on behalf of the city (with the vigorous support of Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris). All billionaires aren’t created equally; some missteps aside, he was generally enlightened regarding the arts – and the value of the arts to New York City. Millions came to visit The Gates.
For everyone who experienced the grace and sense of tranquility this public art project brought to a city that really needed it — this writer included, who was living in New York at the time — The Gates will always represent a special moment in time.
The Gates alludes to the tradition of Japanese torii gates, traditionally constructed at the entrance to Shinto shrines. In 2005, people reclaimed a measure of faith … through a shared public art experience.
So, that’s the context of site-specific public art exhibition. Thankfully, many years away from 9/11, and in New Bedford, it’s a future written on the wind we’re embracing and making a shared creative space for in 2019. But like The Gates, it promises to be no less meaningful.
Silver Current Over Custom House Square Park
“Summer Winds” is a visionary project for the city, signifying a new vision of the city. Like The Gates, it will be a visual representation of a moment in time at precisely the right moment in a city’s history.
In this case, that moment is when New Bedford prepares to host the nation’s first attempt to launch a viable offshore wind energy industry. And for this moment, DATMA has recruited another world-renowned artist, Patrick Shearn.
Patrick Shearn and his outfit, Poetic Kinetics, are based out of Los Angeles. But they’ll be heading east to install “Silver Current” over Custom House Square Park this summer. In fact, Patrick has already been in New Bedford to prepare for this large-scale, outdoor public art exhibition that will bring distinction to the city.
“Silver Current” will be an 8,000-square foot kinetic net sculpture floating in the sky above the park from July 1 to Sept. 30 this year.
Press material explains that, “made out of ultra-lightweight metalized film, ‘Silver Current’ is the latest of the artist’s series of ‘Skynets’ that move and shimmer with the wind, from 15 feet off the ground to 115 feet in the air.
“The customized piece is comprised of approximately 5,200 linear feet of rope, 200 hand-tied technical knots, and approximately 50,000 streamers of holographic silver film on a monofilament net, forming an iridescent wind wave form. Harnessing available wind, the artwork rises high into the sky and gently cascades down again, undulating in a display that is striking from a distance and intimately immersive up close.”
“Silver Current” is a statement piece that will visualize the State of the Arts in New Bedford Now — and the state of the city itself. A city that’s embracing the future and unafraid to think large.
The larger “Summer Winds” collaborative effort will entwine many aspects of the city’s indigenous arts and culture. From kite flying — with a nod to New Bedford’s growing Guatemalan community, in which Festival Tipico de Guatemala is part of its heritage — to the annual Seaport Cultural District Artwalk outdoor sculpture exhibit, which this year has adopted the theme of “wind.”
And here’s the bottom line — even though it’s one that’s going to be floating above the horizon: thousands will experience this city because of all this effort. That’s the power of arts and culture; to bring a community and region together for a unique shared experience.
It happened in 2005 in Central Park. It will happen this summer in New Bedford.
And it will be a moment to seize and hold on to … before it’s gone with the wind.