Artist Venue Check-in: The Bridge PAI with Matthew Slaats

Posted on April 18, 2014 by


Looking for a good new read? Want to tell your own oral history? Want to support Clark Elementary’s School Garden? You can do all of these things and so much more when you check out The Bridge PAI’s collaboration with artist Simon Draper and Habitat for Artists. 

The Bridge has worn many hats during its time in Cville, but local artist and current Director at the Bridge PAI, Matthew Slaats, wants to provide Charlottesville with a whole new vision of what the gallery space is and what it could become. Through The Bridge and this spring’s major project, Habitat for Artists, Slaats hopes to “unleash creativity into Charlottesville,” and transform the gallery space into a “community space.”


Courtesy of The Bridge PAI

Wherever you are in Cville, you are sure to be close by to one of the nine “habitats” that are already placed, or close to finding their unique homes soon. These 6ft by 6ft spaces act as both a canvas and a gallery space inviting viewers into a space for art that is in stark contrast to the white-washed, barren walls of a typical gallery space. Each habitat is a collaboration with local non-profits including the Virginia Institute of Autism, Alloy Workshop, The Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, and many more. These habitats made their debut during the Tom Tom Festival this past week, and will be on display and in use throughout the spring.

Next time your out and about, make sure to stop, look, listen, and participate in one of the habitats, because according to Slaats, “Where isn’t the art?

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? How did you get involved with The Bridge PAI? 

I grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin before embarking on a long journey that has led me to Charlottesville. This included time in Indiana, Switzerland, New York, and Singapore. The reason I’m now in Charlottesville is the culmination of several factors. One, my wife is from Charlottesville and we had long wanted to reconnect with family. Secondly, I had long admired the work that both Zack Worrell and Greg Kelly had been doing at The Bridge PAI. In the fall of 2012, I noticed that the director position had opened at The Bridge PAI. Combining the desire to move to the area and my experience starting an arts organization in New York, I applied to the position and was extremely humbled to be invited to lead the organization.

When and why did you start making art? What mediums have you worked with, or particularly enjoy?

With a father who worked in Public Radio, I was always around the arts. Whether going to an arts festival, to seeing a dance performance, the arts have long been a part of my life. While in elementary school, I started to draw and enjoyed the opportunities that creating art provided.   Though, it wasn’t until college that making art became much more of a focus. I dabbled in various mediums. Though was primarily attracted to the physical qualities of sculpture, video’s ability to control light, and the way technology could transform an experience. Grad school began with a curiosity of casting large-scale glass forms and projecting video through them. Over time this transitioned into a much stronger interest in the relationships that people have with place and how that manifests itself through media and art.   From that point on I have always been pushing the definition of what an artist is, the materials they use, and the role they play in society.   If I had to define my art as of right now it would firmly be in the realm of social practice with an interest in urban design and community engagement.

Describe a day in the life of being an artist and the Director of The Bridge PAI.

Dedicating all of my time to The Bridge PAI, I have not had a lot of time to create new work in the last year. Though, one of my interests at The Bridge PAI is to run the organization not as an arts administrator, but more as an artist. I really want The Bridge PAI to be infused with a creative spirit that looks to address and engage Charlottesville in unique ways.   In some ways, I see The Bridge PAI as being an art project itself. You might call it Art as an Organization, which infuses my past work in communities and The Bridge PAI’s focus to push the traditional boundaries of art.

As for a day in the life, I see much of the work I do as responding to all that is around me, and trying to engage it or improve it in some way.  Whether working on a project that addresses hunger or trying to create ways that artist can rethink urban space, the objective is to develop opportunities for art to play a more significant role in Charlottesville.

What is your favorite event/installation/collaboration that The Bridge PAI has hosted?

In the last year there have been two specific events that resonated with me.

The first was the exhibition of Mark Strandquist’s project Some Other Places We’ve Been in the summer of 2013. Over the last several years Mark had been working in prisons throughout Virginia, using photography as a mode to humanize those that are being incarcerated. This was Mark’s first project since graduating from VCU that summer. I wanted to provide him a space where he could push his ideas, experiment with how people would engage the project, and to show how the arts can facilitate a dialogue about a social issue.

The other event was a talk we organized with educator and activist Bill Ayers in the Spring of 2014. Bill is known for his radical past, but is also a dedicated educator, thinking about how we can improve our schools.   During the talk he said one line that has been extremely important to me ever since. He said, “Art and creativity are at the core of a democratic society.” While I think this statement is something that we all can agree upon, it is a totally different situation to act upon this statement every day. With this line, he set the tone that I want The Bridge PAI to live by in all the projects that we do.

The Bridge PAI is currently hosting a collaboration with Habitat for Artists. Tell us a little about it. What makes this collaboration unique? What should we look forward to?

Habitat for Artists is a unique opportunity to think about how creativity is valued in society and where those activities take place. Typically artists work in studios that remove them from the everyday, emerging to present their work. This I value very highly, but I also believe artists must be more present in their communities, using their creativity to lead initiatives and develop ideas. Habitats for Artists provided an opportunity for The Bridge PAI to bring these ideas to Charlottesville and address them in a very physical way by building 6’x 6’spaces made to activate the community and address specific needs.

For the project we used the prototypical Habitat for Artists as a starting point and then paired local designers, artists, and businesses with a non-profit partner. They then designed a habitat based on a specific use and then built it to later be used around town. The unique nature of the collaboration was the way in which Habitat for Artists inspired a mode of community collaboration, which reused material that might have been thrown away or perpetuated an opportunity for further participation that I believe will make Charlottesville a better place. Art as an investment in the city.

In all we created 9 habitats of varying sizes. These consist of a green house for the Virginia Institute of Autism, a book habitat in partnership with the JMRL, a bee habitat for the urban gardens, and others. These are now being spread around town to be used by the community.

What does the not-so-distant future hold for The Bridge PAI?

We are being very ambitious when it comes to the future of The Bridge PAI. The two primary programs we are working on are an Arts Incubator and an engaged residency program called Public Artists.

The Arts Incubator is meant to shift The Bridge PAI away from being a space that is solely about presenting work to a space that helps artists make their work.   Right now we are organizing a monthly event that brings artists together to talk about projects, engage resources, and develop a community. Over time we will be investing in materials, equipment, and spaces that artists can then use to develop new projects.

Public Artists is going to be a biannual program (spring and fall) that will support an artist to develop a project in collaboration with those living in the City of Charlottesville. A mix of local, national, and international artists, they will come to the city and work with a specific community group to energize local neighborhoods. This will take place via an airstream that is used as a mobile studio/community space. We are presently working on a fall project with Charlottesville Area Transit and in the spring of 2015 we hope to work on a meadow project along the Rivanna Trail.

Favorite place in Cville to… be creative? In any public space

Favorite place in Cville to… see art? Where ever I don’t expect it

Favorite place in Cville to… grab a bite? West Main

Favorite place in Cville to… get a drink? Mas Tapas

Any other Cville favorites?

Hide – Under the Belmont Bridge

See People – By the ABC Store on West Main

People with the most energy and curiosity – Students in the After School Program at West Haven

Lastly…Describe The Bridge PAI in 10 words or less.

Art as a catalyst with in the community.



Courtesy of The Bridge PAI


Courtesy of The Bridge PAI

Posted in: community, {art}