The idea for the Plywood Protection Project, which is shortlisted in the installation design category of Dezeen Awards 2021, came to Worthless Studios founder Neil Hamamoto while he was driving around the deserted streets of Lower Manhattan in the summer of 2020.
At the time, a statewide mandate prohibiting citizens from leaving their homes prompted many businesses to board up their shopfronts to protect them from vandalism or looting.
Many retailers, restaurants and luxury brands also took steps to protect their property during the Black Lives Matter protests, which centred around racial injustice and coincided with the lifting of the lockdown.
During the height of the protests across New York City, the price of plywood skyrocketed as supplies became depleted. According to Worthless Studios, at one point a plywood board measuring four by eight feet cost over $90.
The non-profit organisation saw an opportunity to invite local makers to transform discarded plywood boards into public art projects across all five boroughs of New York City.
"Part of the mission of Worthless Studios is to promote public art," explained Hamamoto in a film about the project, "so how do we create a programme to make a public art project that could be responsive to the time everyone was living through."
Flyers were fixed to plywood boards covering windows throughout Lower Manhattan to let businesses know that they could donate the unwanted material to the project.
The studio then organised an open call for sculpture projects which received over 200 applications. A jury selected five artists to produce sculptures that would be installed in key sites in parks and public spaces.
"It was important to me that the sculptures were installed across all five boroughs," Hamamoto added, "because the lived experience through that time was shared throughout all five boroughs."
"I don't think anyone's experience was any different if they were in Manhattan or the Bronx or Queens, everyone saw businesses go under, everyone saw protests."
Each artist received studio space, tools and assistance with fabrication and installation, as well as a $2,000 artist stipend and a $500 material budget to complete the works.
The sculptures were installed in May and remained in place until 1 November 2021. The locations for the installations included McCarren Park in Brooklyn, Queensbridge Park in Queens, and Thomas Paine Park in Manhattan.
"The Plywood Protection Project reminds people of the incredible time that we lived through in the pandemic and the very powerful Black Lives Matter protests," Hamamoto claimed.
"It's an example of a great way to upcycle material and lastly I think it's trying to pave a new way to exemplify what public art should stand for."
Also shortlisted in the installation design category of Dezeen Awards 2021 is Asif Khan's carbon-fibre latticed gates at the 2020 Dubai Expo.
Chila Kumari Singh Burman is also shortlisted for her neon overhaul of Tate Britain's portico as part of the museum's annual winter commission.