One of Zefrey Throwell's Everyday Awards

One of Zefrey Throwell’s Everyday Awards (click to enlarge, all images courtesy the artist)

Here at Hyperallergic, we’ve been thinking a lot about public art recently. Turns out we’re not the only ones.

Last week artist Zefrey Throwell launched a project in Water Valley, Mississippi, which takes the classic idea about public artworks — that they should honor famous people who’ve accomplished very big things — and turns it on its head. Instead, Throwell is making Everyday Awards, personalized plaques to honor ordinary people for what they view as significant moments in their lives.

As Throwell explained to Hyperallergic:

I came up with the idea for “Everyday Awards” when I was walking around NYC one day. I realized that most of the monuments in the city are for people that had died hundreds of years ago and I had no idea who they were or why they were important. The monuments that I did know were mostly for people who had killed a large number of people or been involved in some questionable political or financial positions. The idea behind “Everyday Awards” is to honor living people who are leading interesting and significant lives.

Throwell’s portrait of Ora Phillips for her Everyday Award (click to enlarge)

To do so, the artist is essentially stopping people on the street in Water Valley and nearby towns to chat with them. From there, he sets up a time to interview them, and in the course of those interviews, he and his subjects decide what they want to commemorate in their lives. He then writes up a short text, combines it with a photograph of the person being honored and creates a plaque — 15 in total, which are being displayed at Water Valley’s Yalo Studio and Gallery.

“This honoring of everyday actions is both a step away from the false plastic sensibility that media and advertising sells us and also a step towards knowing our neighbors in a new light,” Throwell writes. That sounds lovely and inspiring to me. Here’s hoping for a reprise in New York.

Everyday Awards is on view at Yalo Studio and Gallery (303 N Main Street, Water Valley, Mississippi) through September 8.

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...