September 27, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

We all do it. See someone and come to snap judgments about who they are. It might be because they’re dressed a certain way, talk a certain way, or come from a certain neighborhood. Typically, these judgments are negative and divide communities instead of uniting them.

Enter TypecastRecast, a public art project spearheaded by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which addresses bias and bigotry in the community, subtle and otherwise.

Alan Potash, director of the regional office located in Omaha, talks about the project’s genesis in 2012. “Our board went through a strategic planning process with the goal to create a signature event to bring attention to the ADL and bring a dialogue to the community to combat bigotry through a variety of processes.”

Several board members had experience with public art projects in cities like Kansas City and St. Louis, and Potash himself has an art background. For that reason, public art seemed ideally suited to combat stereotypes. “When you’re dealing with bigotry,” notes the director, “art starts those conversations.”

ADL partnered with the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and issued a call for regional artists to submit proposals that would initiate dialogues. Over 50 artists responded, and 12 made it through the jury process. By the time the final selection process was finished in 2013, six artists were chosen, with one chosen at a sold out “People’s Choice” event at the Holland Center for Performing Arts.  The artists included the two-man team Andrew Conzett and Ryan Fisher, Jarrod Beck, Charley Friedman, Jamie Burmeister, Avery Mazor, and Paige Reitz.

Reitz, program coordinator at the Union for Contemporary Arts and a social practice artist, built upon the People’s Choir, a monthly community sing-along event she had helped pioneer in Portland, Ore. For TypecastRecast she envisioned providing an outdoor place for community members to gather and sing. “When the call came out,” Reitz says, “I thought of the People’s Choir and how I could reimagine it in a public space with more presence.”

Her installation “The Risers” features a semi-circle of tiered risers, and sing-alongs include familiar pop songs—such as the Beatles and John Denver—that are in the public consciousness and most people tend to know, many by heart.

The installation is situated along Cass Street between 12th and 13th streets in NoDo
and runs through November.

While the art is temporary, the ADL hopes to make a long-lasting impact on how people interact and treat one another. “Our goal,” says Potash, “is to help individuals understand and conquer their uneasiness. Our goal is for them to go beyond their feelings and change their behavior to be more respectful; and to change their perceptions.”

For more information visit typecastrecast.org.

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