Twin Cities Artist Wins Award for New Public Art Installation

Pramila Vasudevan, a multidisciplinary artist, saw a blade of grass sprouting within the parking ramp where her most recent large-scale piece took place while working on it. A plant discovered a little pocket of light among the hard, gloomy edges of concrete and the weak fluorescent lights.

That’s where Vasudevan got the concept for her latest piece, “Prairie/Concrete.” Vasudevan partnered with Public Art St. Paul, a local group that supports artists and initiatives in the St. Paul community, to submit for the Joyce Awards after pitching it to them.

Vasudevan, of St. Paul, was chosen one of five prize winners this week. Vasudevan will be able to realize her long-form site-specific art project “Prairie/Concrete” thanks to a $75,000 funding. The project, which is a blend of dance, embodied movement, and social practice throughout three local parks, will climax in summer 2023 as the main production for PASP’s inaugural Triennial Art Festival.

The Joyce Foundation, whose aim is to enhance racial justice and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes area, established the Joyce Awards in 2004.

The prizes are part of the foundation’s cultural initiative, which strives to promote its goal through supporting artists of color. Each $75,000 award supports the production and presentation of a new work that engages and connects people.

“The arts have a critical role in elevating communities, increasing people’s lives, and serving as community anchors and locations of cultural life and pride,” said Mia Khimm, Culture Program Director.

In the next year, Vasudevan wants community participation to remain at the forefront of her efforts. “Prairie/Concrete” examines the connections between mobility, plant growth, and finding green in urban environments. Vasudevan has been taught in the art of traditional Indian dance, Bharatanatyam, since she was a little girl, thus it will be anchored in choreography.

Vasudevan will continue to engage people across the Twin Cities in large-scale dance and public art initiatives with her project, as she has for the past 17 years.

Western Sculpture Park, Frogtown Farm, and Hidden Falls Regional Park will all include “Prairie/Concrete.” People who live in the vicinity of these parks will be involved in the design process. Vasudevan aims to build a reciprocal relationship with community members this summer so that they may help design the initiative as well.

“It’s not necessarily about making an item in modern public art,” PASP Executive Director Colleen Sheehy explained. “It’s about having an experience; it’s more ephemeral, and it’s more about interpersonal interactions.”

Vasudevan’s work is distinguished by the fact that she does not choreograph for only professional, highly-trained dancers; she works with anybody.

Vasudevan explained, “That’s part of my choreographic challenge.” “How can I build surroundings in which all participants are fully engaged and enthusiastic?”

Vasudevan engages with community members as well as the site’s history while working on a new sculpture. And all three sites she picked are located on territory that was formerly home to the Dakota people.

Vasudevan asks, “If I contemplate your existence, would you stay?” from the indigenous people who used to reside in these locations to the tiniest leaf patterns.

Her creative perspective is also informed by her ongoing research into her Tamil ancestors’ history and what it means to be a South Asian woman in America. Vasudevan hopes that “Prairie/Concrete” will assist the community in forming new ways of interacting to one another and the natural world.

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