The Centroid, or mean center of population, is “the point at which an imaginary, flat, weightless, and rigid map of the United States would balance perfectly if weights of identical value were placed on it so that each weight represented the location of one person on the date of the census.”
The United States Census Bureau has calculated this point each year of the census, beginning with the 1790 census that placed this point near Chestertown, Maryland. The point then moved steadily west and dipped south, currently residing in Plato, Missouri. The path mirrors the population growth of our nation, following the routes of settlement from the Atlantic to the interior of the continent.
Centroid Towns is a social documentary project creating a portrait of the towns tagged by this coordinate over the years. The twenty-five towns are Chestertown MD, Ellicott City MD, Waterford VA, Wardensville WV, Cabins WV, Buckhannon WV, Burning Springs WV, Beaver OH, Hillsboro OH, Hebron KY, Westport IN, Elizabethtown IN, Bloomington IN, Spencer IN, Linton IN, Carlisle IN, Dundas IL, Ingraham IL (method of computation shift), Shattuc IL, Mascoutah IL, De Soto MO, Steelville MO, Edgar Springs MO, Plato MO, and Hartville MO (projected).
Preliminary photographic fieldwork has been done in each town and and we are currently working to dive deeper with the connected communities, as well as investigating local historical archives. The project began in April 2014 and is ongoing.
We are interested in working collaboratively with community groups in the towns identified above, to empower self-represention and to create new documentation of your cities. Workshops are available at no cost exploring social documentary methods, teaching basic photography skills, and additional topics by request. Please email nl (at) natelarson.com to start a conversation.
We are additionally seeking to work collaboratively with other artists, writers, and documentarians interested in these towns touched by the mean center of populations.
About the Artist
Nate Larson is a contemporary artist and a professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. His projects have been widely shown across the US and internationally as well as featured in numerous publications and media outlets, including Wired, The Guardian, The Picture Show from NPR, Slate, CNN, Hyperallergic, Gizmodo, Buzzfeed News, Vice Magazine, the New York Times, Utne Reader, the BBC News Viewfinder, the British Journal of Photography, The Washington Post, and many others. His artwork is included in the collections of the High Museum Atlanta, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Orlando Museum of Art, Portland Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago. More information and other projects are at www.natelarson.com
Thank you to all the residents of Centroid Towns for their patience with my many questions, allowing me into their lives, and for making me feel welcome as I endeavor to learn about their communities.
Thank you to the Municipal Art Society of Baltimore City (MASBC) and Baltimore Office for Promotion and the Arts (BOPA) for funding the current phase of the project with the 2017-2018 Artist Travel Prize.
Thank you to Mike Behle and Paul ArtSpace in St. Louis for supporting our first project residency in June 2017. Thank you to Marilyn Welch and the Mascoutah Heritage Museum for facilitating conversations with Mascoutah citizens during my time in STL.
Thank you to Zoë Charlton and Tim Doud for hosting the inaugural exhibition "Watershed Moment: A Centroid Towns Project" in Baltimore at 'Sindikit and organizing related group discussion at the Washington Project for the Arts.
Thank you for editing support and project feedback to the Artists U Working Group Baltimore: Zoë Charlton, Helen Glazer, Alex Heilner, Marcia Wolfson Ray, Tony Shore, Olu Butterfly Woods, and Jowita Wyszomirska.
Thank you for editing support and project feedback to the #MDphotoCrew: Liz Donadio, Todd Forsgren, Jay Gould, and Matthew Moore.
Most of all, thank you to my wife, LaRonika Thomas, for patience and love.
Centroid Towns is grateful for seed funding from a Faculty Research and Creative Development Grant (2015) and a Marcella Brenner Grant for Faculty Research Development (2014) from the Maryland Institute College of Art.