New Orleans-born artist Steve Prince spent Jan. 28 through Feb. 1 on campus in conjunction with the innovative interdisciplinary course The Art of Steve Prince, offered during the spring semester by Distinguished Teaching Professor of English Beth McCoy under the auspices of the Center for Integrative Learning. The residency culminated in a community art project called Urban Garden, on view in SUNY Geneseo’s Kinetic Gallery through mid-February.
Taught in collaboration with faculty from eight academic and administrative departments, the course is populated by students from a wide variety of majors and degree programs — from mathematics to education, English to biology — and that’s just what Prince likes to see, especially when creating communal artworks.
“Steve has a prestigious record as an individual artist, but his passion has always been facilitating community art projects,” explains McCoy.
A self-described “art evangelist,” Prince received his B.F.A. from Xavier University in Louisiana and M.F.A. in printing and sculpture from Michigan State University. He has created communal artworks all over the world, including on the SUNY Geneseo campus in conjunction with Cultural Harmony Week in 2017, many of them featuring the themes of growth and renewal that permeate his work.
“We see what’s important to other people, see what our neighbor thinks,” he says. “What do they deem to be problematic? What do they deem to be beautiful and sustaining for us all?”
Prince believes a collaborative art piece such as Urban Garden is ideal for exploring troubling issues and their potential solutions. The resulting artwork is as big as the topic: two sheets of paper, 4-feet-tall by 25-feet-long cover the gallery walls, one each for the problematic and wholesome aspects the art explores.
With plant life as a metaphor, “we can use our imaginations to confront the issues,” says Prince. One gallery wall portrays a woman digging up a weed to depict prison reform; another image shows chemical-laden rain poisoning crops and livestock. The facing wall blooms with lush images of music, literature, and plants nourished by a glowing sun and moon.
In a very real way, Prince says, the artwork is about the community, by the community, and for the community. Students and community members contribute images according to their viewpoints and beliefs — and not according to their artistic ability. Class member Sabrina Bramwell ‘19, an English major on a pre-med track, appreciates the interactivity of Urban Garden, adding that “it has something for everyone, regardless of their background.”
McCoy believes that “art offers ways to solve practical, real-world problems.” Prince agrees, but he also sees value in art creation beyond whatever problem-solving takes place.
“It’s not so much about what’s being made — it’s about the process. It’s the community working together. I hope that we make a beautiful art piece. But that’s not the most important thing.”
On Feb. 1, Prince collaborated with Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra trumpeter Herb Smith in a live art/jazz improvisation in the Kinetic Gallery.
Prince will return to campus on Wednesday, April 3 at 7 p.m. to deliver “Kitchen Talk: The Art of Steve Prince,” in Doty Recital Hall. The event is free and open to the public. Prince's talk is sponsored by the Center for Integrative Learning.