|The bench, before.
Traverse City artist and author Glenn Wolff and Jerry Dennis are getting into the refurb-furniture business.
At tonight’s Friday Night Live, just outside the City Opera House, they’ll reveal the results of their first endeavor: an outdoor bench they and 25 Greenspire students turned from a worn and ragged street seat into an artfully inspired (and functional) public art piece.
The brainchild of Blackbird Arts’ Melissa Johnson, the artist-author-student bench collaboration – aka project Benchmark – is the first of a community art collaboration that will ultimately redo about 20 aged benches around the city.
The impetus for the project? “Benches are a natural fit for community art,” says Johnson. “People sit down and chat, read a book, take a nap. There's a constantly changing audience and interaction with benches. Other cities have done art benches, but they tend to be created by a single artist. I like the idea of collaboration within the community and artists and writers working together.”
Here’s how the project worked: At the outset, Dennis sat down with the Greenspire students to talk writing and creativity. Figuratively – and literally – the kids drew from the author’s book, “The Living Great Lakes,” creating miniature sketches and paintings inspired by the passages in the book that grabbed them.
The resulting 200+ visual meditations were then glued, mosaic-style, to the bench slats, which Wolff used as a base for his own painting and Dennis’ words – all guided by the students.
“I submitted working sketches to the students for consideration and approval, just as I would to an art director in New York,” Wolff says. “In a sense we were all continuously changing hats as artists, editors and art directors.”
That collaboration, says Johnson, was integral to the success of the project.
“It's important for children to interact with professional artists and writers, to see that we can move from imagination to creation and have an impact on others,” she says. “Glenn Wolff and Jerry Dennis continually do this in their work. I think it's really powerful for children to be a part of that.”
The kids weren’t the only ones impacted by the experience.
“I’ve been very fortunate … to see my books taught in high schools and colleges in the U.S. and Canada and to have them translated into languages on four continents, and to see them selected for community reads programs,” Dennis says. “But it’s a special pleasure and honor when teens – the readers of the future – use your work as inspiration for their own artistic efforts. Not many of my successes will give me more pleasure than seeing the student artwork inspired by my words adorning benches in my hometown’s downtown.”
The beautified bench, which will be unveiled tonight at 5:30 p.m., will be permanently installed outside the City Opera House. Like what you see – and sit upon? Blackbird Arts is looking for local businesses to sponsor future benches in the Benchmark project. Contact Johnson here. (Added incentive: Each business' bench will sport a swanky plaque noting the business' support.)