A glance around the newest exhibit at the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts can be disorienting. With a miniature bike rack across the room from equestrian-inspired sketches and images of stars and fish, the display could at first be mistaken for a child’s show.
This may be part of the intent of “Industrial Evolution,” an exhibit that sets out to foment a welcoming ambiance. A closer look yields greater understanding — the sketches of stars and depictions of fish are actually designs for public art. The imaginative illustrations are concepts for functional, custom-designed trash bins, bike racks and fences.
The display is a collaboration encompassing the creations of nearly 50 artists who work through the Public Projects department of the Steel Yard. The Steel Yard was founded in 2001 by Clay Rockefeller ’03 and RISD graduate Nick Bauta, who sought “creative revitalization of (Providence’s) industrial valley district,” according to their website.
The “original concept sketches, models and prototypes” have also been shown to the broader Providence community by the Steel Yard and represent “a window into (the organization’s) process,” said artist and Public Projects Director Howie Sneider.
Prototypes are stationed throughout the exhibit, with actual works represented by miniatures and fragments. The artist might find himself more at home in the space than the unaccustomed gallery-goer. But the Steel Yard balances this understanding with an educational atmosphere, welcoming artistic neophytes with a motif of explanation.
“We’re adding a layer of cultural value to functional objects,” Sneider said. But members of the organization “haven’t done something to this level before,” he said, alluding to the prominence associated with the display in the Granoff Center.
“Industrial Evolution” is one of many installations the Steel Yard carries out annually. Each year, anywhere from 20 to 50 pieces are commissioned, leading to a “constant exhibition of work around the city, and around the state,” Sneider said.
“It’s natural for us to want to exhibit the process, and we have a clear connection to Brown,” said Islay Taylor, the Steel Yard’s program director.
“We were really interested in what (the Steel Yard) was doing. This is a way to show a variety of artists’ work,” said Jo-Ann Conklin, director of the David Winton Bell Gallery and a member of the Creative Arts Council.
She added that “there really is an east-west divide” among Providence galleries, as the West Side galleries tend to be “rougher.” Conklin said she hopes the Steel Yard’s exhibit at the Granoff Center might help bridge that divide.
A non-profit organization supported by fund-raising initiatives, the Steel Yard “is a local alternative that keeps money in the local economy,” Sneider said.
The exhibit is intended to send a message of gratitude to those who have contributed to the Steel Yard’s work. “One of my goals is to publicly thank the artists we’ve worked with,” Sneider said.
The Steel Yard also looks “to challenge and engage the community to make things like this,” Sneider said. “Otherwise, the default is purchasing items from a catalogue.”
“I expect it to be popular,” Conklin said of the exhibit. “Turnout is good for local groups.”
Artists may find it easiest to love “Industrial Evolution,” but that shouldn’t dissuade less artistically-inclined students from a visit. The show does, after all, bring to campus one of Providence’s most prominent hubs of artists.