A Q&A with Artist Amanda Browder

So far, hundreds of community members have donated, arranged, pinned and sewed the fabric for a work of public art that will transform the front and side of ArtsWestchester’s nine-story historic building at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue in downtown White Plains this May. Once known as the Peoples National Bank and Trust, it has new life as an arts center for the people of Westchester.  ArtsNews Editor Mary Alice Franklin, sat down with Browder to find out more about the inspiration behind this project.

Is ArtsWestchester’s White Plains building the tallest you have worked on? How has it been going so far?

Yes, this is the tallest. In 1928, when this building was constructed, it was called a skyscraper. It’s been great talking to all the people from the White Plains and Westchester area who have shown up to be represented in the final site-specific sculpture. What is so unique to this project is the deep history surrounding both the fabric and the building… I love hearing from people when they come to sewing days – finding out their history, how they moved to the area, how their family is connected to this building… I love finding out how and where they connect with fabric.

And what about you – how do you connect with the fabric?  How did you begin working with it?

I started working with fabric when I was a kid in Missoula, Montana. In the ’90s, second-hand stores were filled with colorful fabrics from the ’50s and ’60s. I saw how I could use my interest in geometry to build unique projects with this discarded material…
After grad school, when I moved to Chicago. I was saddened by the lack of color in winter months, so I sewed all the fabric I had collected over a period of five years into one large waterfall and let it flow out of my window… This idea of working big and draping urban structures supported my interest in working outside of the gallery or museum, as well as learning more about my local community through the practice of art-making.

Why is this piece called Metropolis Sunrise and what is your inspiration for the project?

My inspiration for Metropolis Sunrise is really about getting the viewer to walk by and be surprised by this building.  I think about when people wake up in the morning… how they’ll look up to see the sun shining on the building. When they do, they’ll see all of the fabric that is incorporated into this project…
I think of these fabrics as representing all the people of the Westchester area…  So it will be a reminder of how we come together to make the gorgeous, upscale, bright project.

How does involving the community tie into your artistic vision?

This large-scale work will incorporate a database of personal histories through storytelling around textiles.  My feeling is that this project is a celebration of the people of this area at this time… almost like a time capsule.  I love it when people visit the piece once it’s up, and show their friends which fabric pieces they donated or helped to sew. Together, I see this as “our” project – something we can take photos of, brag to our friends about, admire how large it is, and celebrate ArtsWestchester and White Plains for its support of the arts and the community. A version of this article first appeared in the March issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

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