Friends of the High Line

Connecting people to challenging subjects through commissioned projects

Grantee Cohort Spring 2018, Spring 2019

Location New York, NY

Friends of the High Line oversees public art and programming for the High Line, an elevated public park converted from a disused rail track on Manhattan’s west side. In 2017, nearly 8 million people visited the High Line. The public art program is a vehicle for connecting the public to challenging subject matter through commissioned projects. These art projects can include site-specific commissions and exhibitions, videos, and performance-based pieces, and reach a large audience of local, national, and international visitors, 365 days a year, at no charge. Because of the public nature of the High Line, this art reaches audience members that are not limited to traditional museum-goers or criminal justice advocates.

This grant supported a multi-faceted program serving as a companion to Sable Elyse Smith’s sculpture C.R.E.A.M. The piece takes shape as an altered replica of the iconic Hollywood sign, which instead reads “IRONWOODLAND,” simultaneously referencing Ironwood State Prison in Southern California, where Smith’s father was incarcerated, and the Hollywood sign, which originally read “Hollywoodland.” The title of the piece is drawn from a Wu-Tang Clan song from 1993, which narrates the realities of navigating New York streets as a young black man, including experiences with incarceration. Smith has enlisted 11 fellow artists to explore themes of incarceration through a variety of media.

Also, with Art for Justice support, Friends of the High Line partnered with Dr. Baz Dreisinger, artist Hank Willis Thomas and the MASS Design Group to install “The Writing on the Wall” exhibit on the High Line. A collaborative installation, The Writing on the Wall includes essays, poems, letters, stories, diagrams and notes written by individuals in prison around the world, including the United States, Australia, Brazil, Norway and Uganda. The Writing on the Wall constantly evolves and shifts focus based on the material written by those living behind bars in prisons around the world. The group also curated programs from criminal justice reform organizations, including guided walks, panel discussions and other events. After the exhibit closed, Friends of the High Line worked with Openbox, a design firm partner, to move the exhibit to other public spaces.