Independent Curators International supports the work of curators to help create stronger art communities through experimentation, collaboration, and international engagement.

Independent Curators International supports the work of curators to help create stronger art communities through experimentation, collaboration, and international engagement.

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Curator Mariluz Hoyos developed this proposal during the Summer 2010 Curatorial Intensive in New York. 

Artists, researchers, and residents of Harlem explore sound in public spaces

An open call project: Summer 2011/ Summer 2012

What is a public space, who uses it, who claims it and how? What is the role of sound in defining public spaces in Harlem?

Harlem has been identified in the past with a vibrant public life, among the descriptions of Harlem’s public spaces we often encounter accounts of the aural, descriptions of sound that seem to loom large over any other visual details. 369th Infantry Regiment’s march in 1919 commemorating their return from World War I, the increasing intensity of the music and cheering, from the crowds and paraders alike, as the parade entered Harlem in sheer contrast with other parts of the city. Imagine the improptu speeches in the streets and manifestations particularly during the Harlem Renaissance and during the Civil Rights era. In more recent times is easy to recall the drumming circle in Marcus Garvey Park, commemorations and manifestations in the main avenues and boulevards, and quotidian sounds such as the words and music drifting out of churches, or the conversations and arguments in stoops and open spaces being carried out by air through residential streets.

Urban residents claim public spaces in various multi-sensorial ways, physical presence and visual markers being only the most obvious. It has been argued before that sound and/or noise have been powerful tools in establishing and maintaining a presence in Harlem’s public realm, sound emissions becoming modes of participation and contention. Historian Claire Corbould, among others that have studied the shaping of the public sphere in Harlem during the inter-war period, has argued that sound was used to create a “counter-public sphere” in Harlem, becoming one of the distinguishing markers of the African American presence and in New York City. One could add that just as it helped assert the African American presence in the public realm, sound may have had a similar role for Caribbeans/Hispanics in Spanish Harlem, and it continues to be deployed by other cultural subgroups.

The transformations in Harlem’s urban landscape and demographics in the last two decades have brought about frictions and renewed discussions about its public spaces. Within this discussion we’d like to propose to focus on sound and consider artist responses that depart from purely visual or physical manifestations. Harlem ArtLab: Sound will be a project based on collective research about Harlem’s public spaces through the lens of sound that will ultimately lead to a number of sound art commissions for Harlem.

Harlem ArtLab: Sound has been envisioned as a laboratory where artists, researchers, and residents of Harlem can probe existing notions of public spaces using sound as a conduit. The program will be developed in two sections: A series of Listen and Tell sessions during the summer of 2011 and an exhibition of three new art commissions during the summer of 2012. A total of three new commissions will be produced. Harlem ArtLab* will directly invite a selection of artists to submit proposals in Fall of 2011, at least two of the commissions will be selected from proposals by artists that presented in Listen & Tell Sessions.

*Harlem ArtLab is a new independent initiative in Harlem that aims to promote the work of local artists and spark dialogue about art in the public realm.

Artist Selection Process

An open call to local artists will be posted in January of 2011. The call will target local artists whose work incorporates sound with a manifest interest in the relationships between sound and the experience of place. Up to twelve artists will be selected to present their work in Listen & Tell Sessions, which will take place one a month in various informal settings such as local cafés from May to August 2011. At each session two to four local artists and other cultural producers will briefly introduce their work in an informal conversation free and open to public participation. From these discussions, three new sound art works for public spaces in Harlem will be commissioned in Summer 2012.


For further information about this project or The Curatorial Intensive, please email