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Canton native creates art for Alabama community

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CANTON — What once started as an abandoned house in York, Ala., soon became a piece of artwork cherished by the entire community.

From a distance, the finished product looks like an ordinary small, red house, but this “Open House” can be unfolded and transformed into a neighborhood performance space with seating, a creation by conceptual artist Matthew L. Mazzotta from Canton.

“This was an abandoned house in between a grocery store and the post office and to just have that cleaned up was a big step,” he said. “Now to have all this energy brought there with shows, I think it’s pretty much a homerun in terms of people’s reception.”

The two year project began in 2011 when the Coleman Center for the Arts in York offered to pay Mr. Mazzotta to go visit the community and start planning an art project for the community to enjoy.

“I was going to try to do something in this community, but I didn’t know what, so, I needed input from them,” Mr. Mazzotta said. “I asked everybody from the community to bring something from their living room.”

Living room lamps, tables and chairs were set up in the middle of the road on Ave A in York as Mr. Mazzotta led a conversation that allowed the community to open up about their neighborhood.

“This was a way of getting people to think a little bit bigger about what an artist could do for their community,” he said.

Mr. Mazzotta said the living room chat opened up his eyes to the fact that there was no public space for everybody to go.

While in the community, Mr. Mazzotta also saw the large number of abandoned houses and how inexpensive real estate was.

“I started thinking maybe that’s the resource here — this metaphor of transformation,” he said. “Here you have the abandoned house that could be turned into a positive.”

After collecting his ideas, he proposed his project to the Coleman Center for the Arts, which then wrote a grant application.

The project received $20,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts and $5,250 from Visual Artists Network.

Even with the grants, Mr. Mazzotta said the project still needed more funds, so he made a video to promote the project on Facebook and other social media networks. He said his hometown stepped up to the plate with 30 to 40 people donating to the cause.

“We needed more money for the project and a ton of people from Canton supported it,” he said.

After receiving the funding needed, Mr. Mazzotta and community volunteers burned the remains of an abandoned house at 202 Main Street, York. Using materials from the old house, they built an artwork.

At 18 years old, Mr. Mazzota left Canton to study art in college and graduate school. Now, he lives where his art projects are, sometimes even overseas.

Mr. Mazzota said he’s been working with public spaces for a long time. When he lived in Canton, he was a skateboarder who was always looking for public areas to skate.

“There were no skate parks so I was always looking at public space with new eyes, and that’s one of the things that’s always been with me,” he said.

Mr. Mazzota said the grand opening for “Open House” was held June 15, featuring a ribbon cutting by the mayor of York, Gena Robbins, followed by a prayer by a local minister, a gospel choir performance, an R&B band and an outdoor movie.

“People can sit together and dream together,” he said. “You might have conversations in the grocery store or in passing, but if people are split up with different churches or community groups, that’s a completely different conversation than if you’re all sitting together and feeling this energy of the town.”

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