Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx is a beneficiary of Uniqlo's largess.

Uniqlo is marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of its SoHo flagship with a gift to New York: An Art in Parks: Uniqlo Park Expressions grant will transform 10 parks with rotating public art exhibitions by New York-based emerging artists. The two-year grant will fund the program with $100,000 per year. Over the course of the initiative, 20 artists will be identified and awarded $10,000 to execute their work, which will be displayed beginning in the spring.

Two locations in each borough were chosen for their high visibility and history of underserved cultural programming. They include: Joyce Kilmer Park and Virginia Park in the Bronx; Fort Greene Park and Herbert Von King Park in Brooklyn; Thomas Jefferson Park and Seward Park in Manhattan; Flushing Meadows Corona Park and Rufus King Park in Queens; and Tappen Park and Faber Park in Staten Island.

“We were considering how we could best say thank you to the city for its warm welcome over the past 10 years,” said Hiroshi Taki, chief executive officer of Uniqlo U.S. “We felt that working with a civic institution made the most sense. The open accessibility of parks and the fact that every borough has great parks was particularly interesting for us. The concept of using the parks as a canvas to stimulate creativity among local artists also resonated with Uniqlo and is aligned with our ongoing work with artists and partnerships with institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art.”

Mitchell Silver, commissioner of New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, said Uniqlo’s investment is the largest in the 50-year history of city’s public art program. “There’s been nothing at this scale,” he said. “Uniqlo approached us. What we like about the program is that we picked parks with high visibility, but that lacked [cultural] programming in the past. We’re very excited about the locations.”

Artists can use any medium for the site-specific pieces and there are no size requirements or restrictions, Silver said, adding, “We want to make sure the artists understand that the scale should be appropriate to the park.”

Taki said Uniqlo is pleased with the selection of parks in spite of the fact that the company doesn’t have a presence in those neighborhoods. “It’s so well-balanced across the whole of the city, including areas where we may not be known,” he said. “This may help change that. We don’t expect an immediate sales uplift because of this, but through goodwill and building relationships within the 10 communities, we believe we’ll ultimately create new customers.”

Uniqlo’s logo will be featured on each piece by artists that will be installed in the parks. There will also be a dedicated landing page at NYC.gov.

Many of Uniqlo’s initiatives are altruistic, Taki said. “Our mission is to change the world through the power of clothing. We want to improve peoples’ lives through our products, directly and indirectly. For example, making winters more tolerable through the comfort and innovation of products such as Heattech and Ultra Light Down and adding a bit of delight to time spent in a local park and chancing upon a new work of art by a local artist.”

Taki pointed to the brand’s ongoing SPRZ NY program whereby a child is introduced to the creative process by making a Keith Haring-inspired T-shirt with the help of an art educator and Uniqlo staff. Uniqlo’s partnership with MoMA is ongoing.

“We continue to work with MoMA to develop products featuring artists’ work under the SPRZ NY concept,” Taki said. “We believe there may be opportunities to engage with the artists who receive grants through the Uniqlo Park Expression program and look forward to exploring this.”

 On the global level, the Japanese retailer has donated millions of pieces of clothing for refugees through its partnership with the UNHCR, among other programs. “It’s not something we monetize,” Taki said.

Comparing Uniqlo’s initiative with the 2005 Christo and Jeanne-Claude work “The Gates,” which consisted of 7,500 gates bearing hanging saffron-colored fabric panels and lining 23 miles of pedestrian paths in Central Park, Silver said, “We chose the parks we did to make sure we get public art to the people. With Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the people came to the art.”

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