Matthew Mazzotta, an artist whose practice focuses on participatory community design, has teamed up with the Coleman Center for the Arts and people of York, Alabama to transform a blighted downtown property into a new public space. Posing as a typical house from the outside, the space physically transforms into an open air theater that seats up to 100 people.
York is a small town southwest of Birmingham that has an abundance of abandoned buildings, but no accessible community space. Mazzotta decided to appropriate an abandoned house between a grocery store and post-office in the heart of downtown and repurpose the materials in order to create a gathering place for the community. The original facade was maintained as a reminder of what was there before, as the new building becomes a metaphor for transformation in the community. It takes three people to fold out “Open House” in about an hour and a half. This process becomes a performance in itself and peaks the interest of the community, advertising that there is an upcoming show.
“Open House” was built in about 7 months, using the vernacular building techniques of local craftsman and the support of community build volunteers. As Mazzotta recalled one community member saying, “the house need[ed] a human breath.” The theater showcases the talents of the local community, both as a built form and through its numerous performances. The shows are all free; York now has a place for prayer services, gospel singers, community dances and film.
In the future, artists and performers passing through on their way to Birmingham, New Orleans and Jackson will create revenue for the town. “Open House” has the possibility to become a truly unique space that hosts both local and international artists. Mazzotta adds, “There is a great beauty once you provide the framework and people appropriate the site… when you look at the people dancing and think wow, that used to be an abandoned lot.”