I AM A MAN Plaza Honored Today at Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in Minneapolis
(Venice, CA) June 14, 2019—Americans for the Arts today honored I AM A MAN Plaza among 50 outstanding public arts projects created in 2018 through the Public Art Network Year in Review program, the only national program that specifically recognizes the most compelling public art. Chosen by public art experts, the roster of selected projects was unveiled this morning at Americans for the Arts’ Annual Convention in Minneapolis. This is the 18th year that Americans for the Arts has recognized public artworks.
At a time when hierarchical monuments throughout the South are being removed for their racial overtones, this American Civil Rights Memorial combines sculpture, landscape, and poetry to create an interactive and educational experience inspiring future generations to stand up for social justice and positive change. I AM A MAN Plaza is a landscape sculpture commissioned to honor the members of the pivotal 1968 Sanitation Workers’ Strike and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A focal point of the Civil Rights Movement, the strike brought Dr. King to Memphis, Tennessee, in support of the Strikers, when he was assassinated. The I AM A MAN slogan came to represent the struggle for racial equality in Memphis and beyond. The Plaza rejoins this history to the people of Memphis and to the historic Clayborn Temple located next to it. The artist led a design team and held an open dialogue with the greater Memphis community. Through a series of public workshops, they selected pertinent historical text and created an original poem which are etched into the marble gates defining the Plaza’s entry. The block letters of the 12-feet-tall I AM A MAN sculpture are built of bronze on one side of the sculpture and mirror-polished stainless steel on the other side, reflecting the dialectical struggle for racial equality. The combination of text and sculpture provide a place for reflection and discussion on America’s struggle and progress with racism and class inequity since the Sanitation Workers and Dr. King took their historic stand in Memphis.
Says Cliff Garten, “I was continually drawn back to the powerful visual statement of the I Am A Man! picket signs produced by the sanitation workers. I wanted to give an interactive three-dimensional form to those compelling words and reemphasize their relevance in the 21st Century. By rotating the phrase back-to-back and using two different materials, we allude to the conflict in a society that has been divided yet is an America that can stand in unity moving forward.”
“The best of public art can challenge, delight, educate, and illuminate. Most of all, public art creates a sense of civic vitality in the cities, towns, and communities we inhabit and visit,” said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. “As these Public Art Network Year in Review selections illustrate, public art has the power to enhance our lives on a scale that little else can. I congratulate the artists and commissioning groups for these community treasures, and I look forward to honoring more great works in the years to come.”
The projects selected for Year in Review can be viewed on this page and will be displayed throughout Annual Convention. Two independent public art experts—artist Seitu Jones of Saint Paul, Minnesota, and Aaron Ott, Curator of Public Art at Albirght Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York—discussed the trends they uncovered while examining hundreds of submissions in selecting this year’s choices for the most exemplary, innovative permanent or temporary public art works created or debuted in 2018.
Americans for the Arts is the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America. With offices in Washington, D.C., and New York City, it has a record of more than 55 years of service. Americans for the Arts is dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts. Additional information is available at www.AmericansForTheArts.org.
Cliff Garten is an internationally recognized sculptor and founder of Cliff Garten Studio in Venice, California. By connecting people to places and infrastructure through sculptural material, social history and ecology, Garten’s work locates the latent potential in public places to become more than the specific functions they perform. Garten is the recipient of two Individual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bush Foundation Fellowship for Individual Artists, the Bush Foundation Leadership Fellowship, and the Jerome Foundation Travelling Artist Grant. His civic sculptures have consistently been named best in the nation by The Americans for the Arts Public Art Network and have been cited for design excellence by the American Society of Landscape Architects. Garten received a Master of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design and a Master of Landscape Architecture with Distinction from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Additional information is available at www.cliffgartenstudio.com.