Looking at Places Through Artist’s Eyes

This article originally appeared on Shelterforce.org on January 11, 2017. To read the complete article and more pieces on the role of the arts in community development, visit Shelterforce.org.

For many visual artists and designers, browsing the CaFÉ is a regular ritual. The online database lists calls for entry for exhibitions, public art projects, and fellowship opportunities, providing artists with a convenient way of preparing and submitting applications and project proposals. Artists looking through the CaFÉ this summer may have noticed that one call listed was not from an arts organization, but from the Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA), based in Anchorage, Alaska. Active in south central Alaska, an area that includes urban centers like Anchorage as well as rural communities, CIHA serves a culturally diverse population earning at or below 80 percent of the area median income—an income bracket that accounts for 30 percent of the total population of Anchorage and 50 percent of the Native population of the Cook Inlet region. “With our vision of ‘independence through housing’ in mind, Cook Inlet Housing Authority develops programs intended to offer a ‘hand up,’ or an opportunity to move beyond the need for assistance,” reads CIHA’s mission statement.

But these days, CIHA is just looking for someone who can design a bike rack. Not any bike rack though.

Yes, it should be durable and functional and interesting to look at, and not made of anything that might scratch the fender on someone’s ride. However, place is just as important as functionality and artistic merit. The artist chosen better know the local area well enough for their design “to draw on the unique character and history of Spenard,” the call says, including its people, culture, and history. That’s no simple task given the rich cultural patchwork of Spenard and greater Anchorage. [Visit Shelterforce.org for the full article.]