From refugee crises to housing insecurity to the devastating impact of climate change, the concept of shelter is eminently relevant. In New Bedford, a citywide collaborative venture called “SHELTER 2022-23″ examines the topic through three new public art exhibits, as well as a range of additional programming and educational outreach.
The initiative is spearheaded by Massachusetts Design Art & Technology Institute (DATMA), a contemporary art organization dedicated to presenting free public art outside and in collaboration with area galleries and other organizations. While DATMA has an office in New Bedford, it forgoes a gallery space of its own in favor of “programming without walls,” says Lindsay Miś, DATMA’s executive director. “We want to take [art] out of the white cube and into the public to encourage people to engage with art, to remind them that art is for them.”
“SHELTER 2022-23″ spans two seasons, the first of which runs through Sept. 12. It is anchored by three different exhibits that showcase artistic creativity and innovation while exploring the history, economy, and culture of the South Coast region.
“SHELTER: Flexible Fibers + Sustainable Solutions,” at UMass Dartmouth’s Star Store Swain Gallery offers innovative approaches to dwellings’ fabrication through the work of three very different contributions using unusual materials. South Korean artist Do Ho Suh explores identity, migration, and memory through fabric architecture. Abeer Seikaly, who is Jordanian Palestinian, presents photo renderings from her structural fabric system inspired by Bedouin textiles. And Rael San Fratello (the US-based design studio of Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello) contribute their “Star Lounge,” a colorful, freestanding 8½-foot tall dome structure composed of 2,073 3-D-printed bioplastic hexagonal blocks. “We wanted to demonstrate that shelter [could be] inexpensive, with easy to acquire materials like bioplastic, which is usually corn-based in the US, and biodegradable in the right conditions, and could be made on a desktop 3-D printer, making it accessible to more people,” says Virginia San Fratello.
The second exhibit, “Safe Station: New Bedford’s Underground Railroad,” is downtown in the city’s YMCA green space. It tells the story of the region’s active role in the abolition movement through the lens of local artists like Alison Wells, who uses a contemporary approach that she hopes will “raise awareness and encourage discussion about a history that is unknown to many but challenges and inspires our community today.”
The third exhibit highlights New Bedford’s remarkable Hurricane Protection Barrier, a 9,100-foot-long structure that can be seen from space. It was completed by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1966 to shelter the city and its harbor, the most lucrative fishing port in America. Set up along the harborfront walkways, rare archival photos document the barrier’s success and pose questions about dealing with radical climate-related events in the future. “It’s a really beautiful architectural feat that has become a destination for biking and walking, with gorgeous view of the water,” says Miś. “But it’s also interesting to see how design and technology are used to protect the city in a literal way.”
Additional programming, which ranges from multimedia exhibits and interactive projects and workshops to concerts and walking tours, involves partnerships with organizations around the city. Most program locations are within walking distance of one another, designed to be free and accessible to people of all ages and interests.
“SHELTER 2022-23″ is DATMA’s fourth big public art project, following “WATER 2021,” “LIGHT 2020,” and 2019′s “SUMMER WINDS.” New Bedford native Christina Connelly, the city’s chief operating officer, says DATMA’s exhibits have contributed significant energy and a lively collaborative spirit to the area’s culture, while creating a big draw for visitors. “New Bedford has a great longstanding arts and culture ecosystem, but as an organization that pulls together design, art, and technology, and the focus on big public art installations — that’s a bit of a new approach,” she says.
For DATMA, it’s all about making art that is thought-provoking, relevant, urgent, and accessible to all. “When people think of New Bedford, they think of whaling, but what if it’s known for a new era of high-caliber art?” says Miś. “Hopefully, people will consider art as a way of creative problem-solving, maybe using untraditional materials. I do think you can save the world with art.”
For artist and programming information, visit datma.org/shelter.