Matthew Mazzotta works at the intersection of art, activism, and urbanism, focusing on the power of the built environment to shape our relationships and experiences. His community-specific public projects integrate new forms of civic participation and social engagement into the built environment and reveal how the spaces we travel through and spend our time living within have the potential to become distinct sites for intimate, radical, and meaningful exchanges. Through his process, each project starts by creating temporary public spaces for listening – ‘Outdoor Living Room’ - as a way capture voices from local people that might not attend more formal meetings. Stemming from this approach are experiences that involve people from a range of backgrounds working together to create new models of living that contribute to local culture beyond the economic realm.

Mazzotta received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a Masters of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Program in Art, Culture and Technology, and is a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University.


Main Street

MAIN STREET is a international public art project that aims to bring community life back to once thriving centers of towns and cities. Using a multi-faceted approach, which includes collaboration with local residents, workshops with students, local government, and local crafts people, the projects take on abandoned buildings and sites, and transform them into site-specific community artworks.

Of his project, Mazzotta says: “I am an artist that works with communities around the world. I am always coming in as
an outsider, so I start by making spaces for listening - I call them Outdoor Living Rooms (pictured below). The basic premise behind
my work is that the solution is already there, the artist just helps illuminate the path;. I am most interested in working with communities that don't have the resources to develop an art project that speaks about their situation.”

Over the last several decades, the function of many older city centers has suffered as goods, services, entertainment
— and the jobs that go with them — moved away. Many of the buildings that once were lively spaces of social life have
been reduced to warehouses or, worse, empty reminders of what once was.

In 2016, Mazzotta began a project in the Arab World. Working with local students Matthew is developing a proposal to create an artwork in the old city (Al-Balad), previously the commercial hub of Jeddah. He is also planning to work in Tunis in Tunisia.

In 2018, Matthew Mazzotta won Dezeen’s 'Architecture Project of the Year' award for his unassuming project, The Storefront Theate, which brought community life back to an abandoned Main Street in the small town of Lyons, Nebraska.

"This poetic and powerful project has generated the most interesting conversation and has got us the most excited," said the Dezeen Awards architecture master jury. "Architecture is for the community and this is the project that serves the community the most."

The Storefront Theater provides the town of Lyons, Nebraska, with a unique open-air event space, which can be hidden away and disguised as part of the streetscape when not in use. Hydraulic cylinders on either side push down the awning and false frontage over the sidewalk, revealing stepped seats. A screen can be wheeled in front by a tractor, then driven away again when necessary. Since the venue was installed, it has hosted events including movie screenings, video-game nights and music concerts.

"Both the seats and the screen retract and disappear when not in use, giving the impression that there is nothing unusual in this town, leaving only word-of-mouth accounts for inquiring visitors," said the artist.

Matthew Mazzotta was invited to Nebraska by the Department of Rural Affairs to work on a site-specific artwork in collaboration with local people. The result was a 100-seat theatre, which flips down from an unassuming abandoned freestanding storefront in the small Nebraska town, as a social initiative to reinvigorate the neglected main street.

"During the process of making the Theater, many community members revealed fond memories of a once-thriving downtown and expressed a strong desire to see downtown become the center of community life once again," Mazzotta said. Locals donated money and volunteered their time to help to construct the theatre.

The aim of project, at the intersection of community and sustainability in the built environment, is to help bring life back to downtown Lyons. With a population of 851, and like many other small towns in the US, its main street has suffered decline in recent years.

“What happened in Lyons, Nebraska has happened to communities throughout the world.” Mazzotta said, “Small Town Main Street has suffered as goods, services, entertainment—and the jobs that go with them—move away. Today, the price of bread depends far less than it once did on the cost of wheat and far more on the cost of packaging, advertising, and transportation. The mom-and-pop shops that once made up downtowns are being undercut by international discount retailers that benefit from economies of scale. Buildings that once housed bowling alleys, barber shops, bars, theaters, and restaurants also can no longer compete and have closed their doors. As a result, the social bonds and everyday experiences that these spaces once provided, have virtually disappeared.”

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