POP-X exhibits put human face on art in Ann Arbor

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

The Ann Arbor Art Center has been around for 106 years, and Omari Rush, its curator of public programs, says the center’s unconventional new exhibit aims to ensure the institution’s “sustainability and relevance” for another century.

“The art center has been doing exhibitions in our building for a long time, but we thought: Why don’t we take it out into the community and use the power of the arts to inspire people and to open up access to the arts?” he says.

Rush is the project director for POP-X, an art show contained in eight walk-in pop-up pavilions that will be on display Oct. 15 through Oct. 24 in downtown Ann Arbor’s Liberty Plaza. The concept of a free art show in a public park arose from a partnership between the art center, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and philanthropists and artists Larry and Lucie Nisson.

Lucie Nisson says the partners were inspired by organizations like the New York-based ArtPlace, which promotes integrating the arts into all aspects of a community. As Nisson sees it, POP-X is just the beginning of a larger ambition.

“Part of our goal is to fill Ann Arbor with art, so this is a step in the direction of that,” she says. “We want outdoor art. We want art that can be enjoyed by everybody.”

Organizers picked a rather politically charged site for the show. Liberty Plaza is a gathering place for Ann Arbor’s homeless, and a redesign of the park has long been the subject of debate at city council meetings. One of POP-X’s featured artists, Ypsilanti resident Nick Azzaro, will seek to directly address public perception of the park. Azzaro’s contribution to the show will feature portraits of some of Liberty Plaza’s regular visitors, photographed in a small studio he set up in the park.

In his work, Azzaro noticed that many passers-by simply ignore Liberty Plaza. He says he wanted to combat the “stigma” associated with the park.

“I hope that this might make (visitors) look at the people who occupy this space as humans,” he says. “I know it’s not as simple as that, but I would like to make a connection.”

Work showcased in the other pavilions will cover a variety of subjects. Chazz Miller’s exhibit will feature painted butterflies (he spread them throughout Detroit in a 2010 project), while Kate Robertson will present small sculptures that require audiences to look through a portal to voyeuristically view an interior space.

Some pavilions will feature collaborative efforts. Young participants from Girls Group, a nonprofit working to empower young Washtenaw County women to graduate high school and college, will offer their artistic representations of the concept of “home.”

POP-X also includes a variety of free public programming throughout Ann Arbor, in what Rush describes as another extension of the project’s mission to “expand the accessibility of the arts for everybody in our community.”

Events will range from a theater performance by Ypsilanti-based Neighborhood Theatre Group to a lunchtime “Art for Innovators” speaking series, exploring ways for businesses to incorporate art and artistic thinking into their operations.

If the show proves successful, organizers envision a recurring event that could extend showcase a broader swath of the community.


Oct. 15-24

Liberty Plaza

Corner of Division and Liberty

Ann Arbor


(734) 994-8004