Sherry Aliberti's "Cocoon" from Art in Odd Places's 2011 festival themed "Ritual" (photo by Elizabeth Cheviot, courtesy AiOP)

For the 15th consecutive year, Art in Odd Places (AiOP) will be returning to Lower Manhattan from October 13 to 15. The collaborative art project is best known for engaging passersby in public art through its outdoor weekend festival celebrating visual and performance work. AiOP has announced an open call for project proposals pertaining to this year’s theme, “Dress,” chosen by selected curator and participating artist Gretchen Vitamvas. The proposal submission deadline is Sunday, May 14.

Born in 2005, AiOP was developed in response to the “disappearance of civil liberties and the surveillance of public space after the events of 9/11,” founder and director Ed Woodham told Hyperallergic. The project found its annual home on 14th Street between Avenue C and the Hudson River in 2008 and has been ensnaring the curious public for one weekend a year since then (save for 2020).

“It’s all about taking art from places that people often didn’t want to go inside, like a gallery space or a museum or a theater, due to socioeconomic, educational, and personal comfort differences, and making it less precious and more accessible,” Woodham continued. “With that in mind, one of the tenets of AiOP is to not shove art onto people in public spaces, but to offer it gently and mindfully.”

Flora Choi, “Upbraiding Traditions,” for Art in Odd Places’s 2011 “Ritual” festival (image courtesy the artist via AiOP)

AiOP is an ongoing experiment and exploration of communicating in and with public spaces, specifically set in an urban laboratory. Woodham invited Vitamvas to curate this year’s iteration of AiOP after several years of her participating as an artist. Vitamvas, whose personal practice centers on garment-making and patterning, was excited to assign “Dress” as this year’s prompt to have artists play with and explore those mediums.

“We were trying to think of a way to sort of turn 14th Street into a runway and looking for that open-ended word that we choose every year,” Vitamvas explained. “And ‘Dress’ seemed like a way to invite these projects that work with garments and personal presentation and expression of identity through our outward skin and that you choose to put on.”

Woodham and Vitamvas agreed that the energy of AiOP has changed in recent years since the pandemic restrictions came into play. The project was suspended in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions, but Woodham noted that the stretch of shuttered businesses and the “social trepidation, if not reticence” that characterizes our regressed social skills from lockdown are the main shifts that altered the energy and foot traffic in the area for the last two years.

Gretchen Vitamvas as a “Plague Doctor” for Art in Odd Places’s 2021 “Normal” festival (photo by Jon Bumble, courtesy AiOP)

Despite the shift, Vitamvas said that New York City “has never failed to embrace with both arms.”

“Each time I prepared to take my piece out onto the street, there’s this sense of anticipation and a little bit of anxiety — I’m always wondering how it’s going to be received,” Vitamvas noted. “But people love it. I think that the 2021 ‘Normal’ festival really felt like a celebration to be out, walking along 14th Street again and sort of engaging in person. Such a treat after being away from everyone for so long.”

Woodham and Vitamvas are looking forward to realizing the 14th Street runway, whether with tape, chalk, or however it falls into place. “We want to invite passersby to also walk the runway with our artists and present their identity as they move through the city,” Vitamvas added, considering how to involve the public beyond spectacle this year. “I think there is still that importance of physical interaction with AiOP, even with the rise of social media.”

Interested artists can find the submission guidelines, frequently asked questions, and other such information about how to participate this coming October right here.

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...