Art project to illustrate ties that bind Bryan-College Station

Though the exhibition won't start until May, XYZ Atlas will be hosting events in B-CS for the next four months. The first was last weekend at the Arts Council of Brazos Valley's Empty Bowls Jr. There will be pop-up events this weekend at First Friday in Downtown Bryan and at all four days of the Spirit of Texas Festival at Wolf Pen Creek Park.

A free art exhibition that uses survey research to provide an artistic visualization of people's sense of belonging to their community is coming to Bryan-College Station from May 5 until the end of June.

In 2013, Jennifer Chenoweth, a Texas transplant who grew up in the Midwest, launched XYZ Atlas, an interactive public art project that explores why people call a series of roads and houses their communities and homes. Over the three-year Austin-based project, titled "XYZ Atlas: the Hedonic Map of Austin," Chenoweth created more than 45 exhibits, installations and events at a multitude of public spaces, conferences, parks and community gatherings.

Come May, the Bryan-College Station-based project, titled "The Experience Map of Bryan and College Station," will showcase visualizations of how residents from our diverse communities experience a sense of belonging. The exhibition will feature an indoor display at the SEAD Gallery in Downtown Bryan, as well as various outdoor pop-up transformations of public spaces throughout Bryan; it also will feature several interactive multimedia representations of XYZ Atlas' survey data, in addition to 3D printed objects, hand-drawn pieces of art, digital maps and sculptures.

"The expanded goal of the project is to show how communities and people find attachment to space and place," said Mason Kerwick, a publicist at XYZ Atlas.

People form connections to public buildings and businesses they don't own but frequently visit, like bookstores, coffee shops or bars, Kerwick said. Chenoweth's project will examine geospatial and emotional commonalities between community members and the parks, businesses and roads they frequent. The artist will collaborate with Texas A&M University to create an artistic map of shared experiences in the Bryan-College Station area,

Though the exhibition won't start until May, XYZ Atlas will be hosting events in B-CS for the next four months. The first was last weekend at the Arts Council of Brazos Valley's Empty Bowls Jr. There will be pop-up events this weekend at First Friday in Downtown Bryan and at all four days of the Spirit of Texas Festival at Wolf Pen Creek Park.

Kerwick said the main point of the project is for people to "find unexpected common ground" through the exhibitions's maps and visual representations that show "shared experience through art."

Chenoweth created a 20-question English and Spanish online survey that encourages people to, in Kerwick's words, "share the name or geolocation of a place." The beta version of the survey prods respondents to identify emotions associated with different parts of B-CS, existentially asking the user to identify where they "experience your own mortality," "feel deep sadness" and "feel utter disgust," among other questions. The final version of the survey will be uploaded Friday.

The results of these surveys will be collated into data points, which will then be interpreted by a researcher. From there, Chenowith will create visual representations or artistic sculptures or drawings based on the researchers' interpretations, making the exhibition a research-informed display of artistic representation of B-CS residents' feelings of community and belonging. After the exhibition, Chenoweth and her team will hand over the data for researchers to utilize in future studies or for public engagement.

Kerwick said the art will inspire discussions on not only "how happiness can be its own individual thing, but how we view that collectively."

This isn't the first time Atlas XYZ has come to B-CS; Chenowith brought single-day pop-up projects to A&M's campus for GIS Day in 2015 and Open Data Build Day in 2016.

Kerwick said XYZ Atlas was attracted to Bryan-College Station because of the "nature of the area," specifically citing the diversity of Texas A&M University and the surrounding neighborhoods.

"People are very responsive to the project. There's a lot of interest in bringing it there and making it more localized," Kerwick said, adding that they hope the project will be used in across the U.S.

Kerwick said another goal of the exhibition and its accompanying pop-up events is to "give power to under-represented groups." Chenoweth partnered with Texas Target Communities at A&M to find a more diverse set of voices and preferences in her survey data and, by extension, its visual representation. The thinking, Kerwick said, is that "voice and collective representation matters in making the area better for everyone."

The group's search for diversity can also be seen in its choice of venue and emphasis on outdoor pop-up events.

"It's been very important the project exists outside of gallery spaces, which have more of a sense of privilege," said Kerwick. In choosing a space that is conceptualized outside traditional public notions of an art gallery, he said, "Jennifer has been able to get a more diverse and general audience that may not frequent general art areas," making the project, its surveys and its art more representative of the community as a whole.

To take Atlas XYZ's survey and be a datapoint in the upcoming exhibition, go to http://www.xyzatlas.org/survey/. If you're a local artist or performer who wants to display your own artistic interpretation of the exhibition's theme, go to http://www.xyzatlas.org/call-proposals-bryan-college-station/. Proposals are due March 10.

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