PUBLIC ART FUND TALKS: Art in a Time of Crisis: Reflections on Healing, Recovery, and Rebuilding


On August 24, artists Arielle Bobb-Willis, Nate Lewis, and Sharon Madanes will virtually join Public Art Fund Assistant Curator Katerina Stathopoulou to discuss the theme of healing through the lens of their newly commissioned works for Art on the Grid. This past spring, Public Art Fund invited 50 emerging New York-based artists to participate in this citywide exhibition by reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic and parallel epidemic of systemic racism as a way to help our communities process the challenges we face together. The artists were prompted to respond to the broad themes of reconnection and renewal and to interpret them through their own perspectives and artistic styles. The resulting artworks include reflections on a number of themes, among them loss, healing, rebuilding, and the revelation of the hurdles we face as we care for our physical and mental well-being. Beginning with a discussion of Bobb-Willis, Lewis, and Madanes’ new commissions, the conversation will also consider the role of public art in the pandemic and its ability to serve as a vital tool in our creative and spiritual recovery.

This talk accompanies Public Art Fund’s exhibition Art on the Grid, 50 artists’ reflections on the pandemic on 500 JCDecaux bus shelters and 1700 LinkNYC kiosks across the city (on view through September 20, 2020).

Public Art Fund Talks are presented in partnership with The Cooper Union

About the Artists

Arielle Bobb-Willis is a photographer born and raised in New York City, with pit stops in South Carolina and New Orleans. For nearly a decade, she has been using the camera as a tool of empowerment. Battling with depression from an early age, Bobb-Willis found solace behind the lens and has developed a visual language that speaks to the complexities of life: the beautiful, the strange, belonging, isolation, and connection. Inspired by masters like Jacob Lawrence and Benny Andrews, Bobb-Willis applies a ‘painterly’ touch to her photography by documenting people in compromising and disjointed positions as a way to highlight these complexities. Toting the line between fashion and contemporary art, her use of bright vivid colors is therapeutic and speaks to a desire to claim power and joy in moments of sadness, confusion or confinement. Her photographs are all captured in urban and rural cities, from the South to North, East to West. Bobb-Willis travels throughout the US as a way of finding ‘home’ in any grassy knoll, or city sidewalk, reminding us to stay connected and grounded during life’s transitional moments.

Sharon Madanes is an artist and physician working in New York City. Her work explores the rituals, aesthetics, and ethics of medicine. She searches for poetic moments within the banal institutional surroundings where doctors treat patients and patients wait. Madanes received her BA from Yale University and her MFA from Hunter College. She attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and Yale Norfolk School of Art. She has exhibited work at The Drawing Center (New York), Underdonk (Brooklyn), Cuevas Tilleard (New York), DC Moore (New York), LeRoy Neiman (New York), Socrates Sculpture Park (New York), Torrance Art Museum (Torrance), Bannerette (Brooklyn), 1708 Gallery (Richmond), and Levontin 7 (Tel Aviv). Her work has been featured on Exhibition A, New American Paintings, and ARTINFO. She is also the founder and co-director of 14×48, a nonprofit organization that posts public art on vacant New York City billboards.

Nate Lewis explores history through patterns, textures, and rhythm, creating meditations of celebration and lamentations. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from VCU, and practiced critical-care nursing in DC-area hospitals for nine years. Lewis’ first artistic pursuit was playing the violin in 2008, followed by drawing in 2010. Since 2017 he has lived and worked in New York City. Lewis’ work has been exhibited at the California African American Museum; The Studio Museum in Harlem; The Yale Center for British Art; 21c Museum Hotels; and with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services. Past residencies include Pioneer Works and Dieu Donne. Lewis’ work is in the public collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Grinnell College Museum of Art, Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Austin at Texas, and 21c Museum Hotels. He has lectured at Yale University as part of Claudia Rankine’s Racial Imaginary Institute, the Yale Center for British Art, and Paris Photo.

About the Talks

Public Art Fund Talks, organized in collaboration with The Cooper Union, connect compelling contemporary artists to a broad public by establishing a dialogue about artistic practices and public art. The Talks series feature internationally renowned artists who offer insights into artmaking and its personal, social, and cultural contexts. The core values of creative expression and democratic access to culture and learning shared by both Public Art Fund and The Cooper Union are embodied in this ongoing collaboration. In the spirit of accessibility to the broadest and most diverse public, the Talks are offered free of charge.