Joe Hudak doesn’t exactly want you to “walk a mile in his shoes,” but something about that proverbial imperative seems appropriate to his unique vision. The Mile Project is an ambitious undertaking that will rely on the kindness of many, many strangers to help this 38-year-old Enosburg Falls artist realize his goal. The idea is to get thousands of people to draw little pictures on postcards he has made for the purpose. The drawing area is just under 3 inches wide, so once Hudak has collected the 21,000-some cards, he will arrange the pictures in a horizontal line and print them on a continuous roll of paper. That’s right: 1 mile long.
There’s no deep meaning behind the math. Hudak says he chose a mile because “it’s a nice round number, an iconic measurement.” But the significance of his project transcends simply making a massively long monoprint — though that’s surely a record-breaking achievement in itself. Hudak’s ultimate objective is to open an arts center with public studio space and art-making opportunities “in a town that needs it and would welcome it.” (He hasn’t chosen that town yet.) The bigger-picture raison d’être: Hudak wants to do something to counter what he sees as a dwindling focus on arts education in public schools. “It’s as if we’re, as a society, moving away from wanting people to be creative,” he laments.
How will The Mile Project lead to an arts center? Read on. For now, Hudak, a Johnson State College grad, is encouraging creativity in tiny increments — he’s handing out postcards to all takers, and a downloadable version is available on his website, http://www.1mile.org. Having begun this process almost a year ago, Hudak estimates he has about 14 percent of the drawings he needs. In just a few more years, he reckons, he’ll be able to make the mile-long print and sell it off at $25 per “link.”
Hudak explains that 40,000 chain links (extending a bit more than a mile) will appear along the bottom of the horizontal roll to “meter” the print. And here’s that math: $25 x 40,000 links = $1 million. Hudak hopes that sum will enable him to establish the arts center without incurring the debt of a bank loan. “I want the studio rentals to be as cheap as possible,” he asserts.
Mile Project supporters can, of course, buy any number of consecutive links of the print. For instance, someone might want to own all 40 of the New York City sketches one participant sent in — “He drew one a day,” Hudak explains. “I’d like to keep things that came as sets together.” He guesses “five or 10” other individuals have given him multiple images. But even among the one-offs, some themes have emerged. “It’s amazing how many stick figures can drink beer,” Hudak says wryly.
When he hands strangers a postcard and asks them to draw something, often their first reaction is fear, he confides. But when he tells them about his good cause, even the “non-artists” tend to relax and oblige. A recent shout-out on the participatory arts website http://www.illustrationfriday.com has garnered Hudak entries from as far as Croatia, Japan and Brazil, he says. Locally — when he’s not at his job designing ads for The Burlington Free Press — he can often be found in a coffee shop working on his laptop, and telling more strangers about The Mile Project.
A sort of social network is developing alongside the creative enterprise, Hudak says. As the drawings collect on his website, suspense mounts about the finished product: Participants want to see which images will appear beside their own contributions or sections they want to buy, he suggests. To up the curiosity ante, he’s planning to add his own stream of images to a horizontal band in the middle of the print — between the drawings above and the chain links below. And for now, he’s remaining mum about just what that stream will be. “It’s still in development phase, but I have a concept,” he says cryptically. “I want to keep it close to the vest.” Hudak says he’ll be building a forum on his site, “so people can talk to each other.”
Meanwhile, he’s looking for a source of good archival paper for the print. The current postcards are on wind-power Bristol board, Hudak explains. He prints them himself and cuts them by hand with an old-school X-Acto knife. Oh, and he’s also selling project T-shirts — for those too impatient to “walk” the mile.
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