“The number is significant in that it reflects the official United Nations [High] Commissioner for Refugees number of 21.3 million refugees worldwide,” he said. “[It’s] one figure per 1,000,000 refugees. And that was in 2016. Now the numbers a little higher, but we’ve kept the figures at 22.”

“Migration has been a part of human history since the beginning,” said artist Ann Hirsch. “We move. We’re always on the move, and sometimes we’re on the move because we need to be; because we are danger.”

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. – There is an ArtPrize installation piece in the Grand River that represents the refugee crisis.

The piece is called SOS, or Safety Orange Swimmers, and it makes a connection between the Grand River and all the rivers and seas that people have crossed in search of safety and shelter.

A+J Art and Design, a collaborative team based in Boston, are one of the recipients of the ArtPrize Featured Public Projects grants this year. Ann Hirsch and Jeremy Angier’s project will be one of two entries in the Grand River. As a way to highlight some of the stories behind the development of the dozens of projects that received grants this year, I decided to mail a small questionnaire to artists that we could then publish on the ArtPrize Blog. Ann and Jeremy responded by asking if we could have a longer conversation about their work and the shifting realities of immigration, which their work explores, as well as the political forces challenging the country — and even ArtPrize itself. I happily agreed.

For context, it’s relevant to note that we spoke on September 6, 2017, the day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DACA would be rescinded, and in between Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

This temporary exhibition in Boston’s Fort Point Channel called attention to today’s refugee crisis. Each figure represented nearly 1 million of the United Nations’ estimated 21.3 million refugees in the world today, as we previously reported.

The “scale of refugees to figures floating in the water is heartbreaking,” Madhumita Narayan wrote. “The realistic sculptures really made it feel like a more tangible cause, rather than just a statistic.”


“Onlookers at Fort Point stop to admire and make sense of the eye-catching figures. The uniform shapes are painted “safety orange” for good reason. From an artistic standpoint, it was important for the artists to choose a bright color they knew would make a big impression on observers.

On a deeper level, the color “safety orange” is a color that signifies the idea of hazards, danger and safety. Life vests and safety rafts are usually this brash, orange color which set them apart from their surroundings. The alarming orange color evokes a sense of urgency common to the journey of those seeking asylum.”