At a problematic intersection in the city’s oldest neighborhood sits a derelict funeral home: Spencer’s Mortuary. By harvesting the abundant and now unclaimed material and territory across the city, the mortuary is being reinvented as Spencer’s Art House -- a cooperative artist and community space. Short-term living quarters will house artists, urbanists, and creative thinkers on the upper floor, while the publicly accessible space below will be used to host workshops, teach classes, curate exhibitions, hold performances, and otherwise activate the community.
The mortuary itself is an exhibition on continual display. Artists, architects, and builders will be brought to the mortuary in intervals to take part in its transformation and engage in creative space-making. Focusing on the transformative capabilities of waste materials, greater notions of value will be called into question. The entirety of the building is a hybrid architectural-domestic laboratory, where materials engage activity and activity engages the material. The result is a house in constant motion.
Boarded windows, a collapsed floor, and leaking roof; the building is the embodiment of urban blight, and financially infeasible to reconstruct by conventional means. Instead, waste objects from to-be demolition sites, construction dumpsters, and road-side rubbish piles are dismantled and recombined into new spatial forms, material assemblies, and social organizations. Within, compromised spaces lend themselves to reinterpretation, where their very deficiencies foster creative solutions. The collapsing floor is removed to accept a bright, double-height space, where decommissioned electrical cables and ceramic insulators detail the railing of the overlooking balcony. Above, small scraps of 2x4 reorganize themselves as webs of the super-strength trusses which reinforce the roof. A hatch leads to the flat roof -- an anomaly among local residences, now embraced as a private outdoor space.
The building, itself the canvas, will continue to transform. Artist residencies within will enable the building and its contents to be of perpetual change. By blending Flint’s most inventive artists with the region’s leading adaptive-reuse architects, the spaces within will continue to evolve according to an ever-changing context of materials and events. With this, we broadcast a model for recovering abandoned structures which is physically, financially, and socially accessible.
The work is the product of hands of many. Not only does this distribute ownership of the property to give it social resilience, but it makes for a diverse series of interventions and inhabitations which further catalyze both inventiveness and cooperation.
As a multitude of people cross paths, the project becomes as much about the process as the final product. A playful cut in the wall, an unlikely performance venue; These interventions breath life back into a place that until recently was deemed unsaveable.
Over the months, we’ve held community workshops, art exhibitions, performances, installations, film screenings, and other events to begin changing perceptions of the space - all contributing to a still-growing momentum for the project.
The neighboring house, like many beyond it, sits vacant. As we begin developing the space around and between the houses, this, too, is claimed as opportunity.
Working with local found-object artist Ryan Gregory, the idea for an outdoor amphitheater begins to materialize. Steel pipe, scavenged decades ago from the failed General Motors plant frames the screen. A series of bicycle wheels retrofit as pulleys churn, and two large wings swing in; the projection screen becomes a canopy for a stageset.
Because the neighboring building still remains an eyesore, Justin Ryan Polisky - a multi-medium artist - is asked to address the exterior of the house. “We are pioneers too!” “Anchored in the past and alert to the future!” Flint advertisement slogans from the 1950’s are stenciled in within a solemn but optimistic modern context.
Status: Under Construction
Location: Flint, MI, US
My Role: Project Manager, lead designer, builder
Additional Credits: Tim Monahan, Justin Ryan Polisky, Ryan Gregory, Flint Public Art Project