What is public space? Why do artists choose to work in unconventional places? How do they use these spaces around the world? What kinds of legislation and technical characteristics do professionals have to take into account?
A consortium of European arts organisations and learning institutions specialised in art in the public space are launching a free 4-week online course, starting Sep 9. Every Monday, 1 hour of short videos will be released, featuring 100s of artists and projects, on 4 different themes: Week 1 – Introduction to aesthetics, history and institutions Week 2 – Specific dramaturgical issues Week 3 – Site-visit and in situ writing methodology Week 4 – Understanding issues related to the relationship with the audience
Art of Festivals – a ‘think-and-do’ consultancy for festivals and their ecology – is hosting a free weekly meet-upevery Thursday between Sep 12 and Oct 3 (5-7pm) to come together, discuss the course content, hear perspectives and insights from leading local practitioners and, together, dream up the next wave of art in the public space in Toronto.
You don’t have to do the full course to participate, you don’t have to be there at 5pm sharp and you don’t have to come every week – this study group is an opportunity to form a community of practice, especially where performing arts, the built environment and participatory practices meet, so there are no rules, no fees, no barriers. Come if you can, when you can, bring a friend, and stay a bit longer for drinks after the session!
All sessions will be co-hosted by Fanny Martin and Bridget MacIntosh, with additional facilitators, and we welcome all citizens, artists, activists, technologists, technicians, academics, city planners, educators, producers… curious about art and public spaces.
This is just the start! Together we can build an extraordinary community of practice to transform Toronto’s public spaces. Hop on board!
featured image: LA SPIRE @ Jean-Louis Fernandez / Metropolis 2019
I’ve been interested in the question of the commissioning process since my early-career days at the Manchester Jazz Festival, where I developed, with my good friend Steve Mead, a framework for selection and production, mjf originals, which is still going strong and has produced outstanding works. They’ve now gone one step further by creating a new artistic development scheme, hothouse, “that gets rid of the traditional written application forms and long-winded grant funding processes that artists frequently endure”. Artists are selected on the basis of a short video and get mentoring, guidance, paid rehearsal time and a paid work-in-progress showcase. I’m looking forward to discover the exciting new music that will come out of this, and in the meantime, I’ve rounded up a few other commissioning / development schemes that I like the sound of, beyond music (admittedly with a view to borrow and steal ideas for future projects).
Les Nouveaux commanditaires (The New Patrons) is a public art “protocol” developed in 1991 by visual artist François Hers, with the support of the Fondation de France, in response to what he perceived as the disconnection of art and life: the culmination of a triple logic of the artist as genius, the art object as a market commodity and the public as passive and unconcerned.
This Protocol is about injecting and redefining value at all levels of the creation and reception / interaction process. Crucially, it’s the public – playing their full role as citizens – who take responsibility to commission an artwork from an artist.
As Patron (commissioner), they therefore have to understand and express the reasons why an artwork should exist and be invested in.
The artist’s role is to invent new forms that respond (or reflect, subvert, question…) to the evolving needs and realities of contemporary society. Within the Protocol, the responsibility for artistic creation is a shared, collective one, not just a private initiative.
The third key piece of this creative equation is the mediator, an experienced arts professional, part facilitator, part producer, part fundraiser, selected by peers to act as an go-between, stewarding the process, navigating all interests and accompanying the commissioning individual or group until and beyond the realisation of the work.
Philanthropists, political representatives and academics are also actors in the Protocol, each bringing their influence, expertise and self-interest to the process, making the resulting work more grounded in society, but also more tricky to produce – hence the importance of the sustained, long-term mediator’s work, “organising the cooperation” of all parties.
Extract from the Protocol (in the current English translation provided on the New Patrons website – it needs a rework!):
In committing to an equal sharing of responsibilities, all players agree to manage through negotiation the tensions and conflicts inherent in public life within a democracy.
The work of art, having become an actor of public life, thus ceases to be merely the emblematic expression of someone’s individuality to become the expression of autonomous persons who have decided to form a community in order to invent new ways of relating to the world and to give a shared meaning to contemporary creative activity.
Financed by private and public subventions, the artwork becomes the property of a collectivity and its value is no longer a market value, but the value of the usage this collectivity makes of it and the symbolic importance conferred upon it.
The “mediator” role is of course what makes me really tick in this process, as I’ve been exploring how to be a better Creative Producer for a while. In his 2016 short book Letter to a Friend about the New Patrons, François Hers expands on his motivations and journey to create the Protocol, and reflects on the rise of this go between figure, which has since flourished in all sectors and situations, especially under the title of facilitator.
Two mediators discuss here how the phrase (and concept) Les Nouveaux commanditaires has been translated outside France
There were 334 works listed on the website as of December 2017, which is a lot of citizen-led public art, so I could only pick a tiny sample below to illustrate the wide range of impulses and intentions behind these works:
A New Product: A consulting firm specialised in office organisation commissioned an artist to accompany and make sense of their own relocation process.
Qu’est ce qui nous rassemble ? (What Brings us Together?): An ad-hoc group of citizens (ccc) in the South West of France interested in the history and identity of their city engaged an artist to find the most relevant way to represent, in the public space, a contemporary vision of their city.
The Ever Blossoming Garden: Parents and friends of a young woman murdered in 2007, after 5 years of organising silent marches in her memory, worked with an artist to create a peace sanctuary where violence could also be questioned.
Et pluie le soleil: the staff of a children’s home wanted to bring beauty, colour and harmony inside the institution, but also change its perception and reputation in the village. The artist worked with the children in care to transform their place of residence and created a children’s book in place of a catalogue.
Sharawaggi:A group of students commissioned a set of new bell sounds for their school.
I came across Tridanse when researching examples of art and mental health institutions, which led me straight to the extraordinary 3bisf, a contemporary art centre located within the 19th century wing of a psychiatric hospital in Aix-en-Provence. Until 1982, it was a closed environment, a “pavillon de force” for women only. Since 1983, it’s a centre that both presents performances and exhibitions and hosts visual and performing arts residencies. Artists can develop not only new works but also new processes to involve and meet audiences.
Tridanse is a networked residency created in 2005 specifically for dance artists, who get access to 4 different arts centres in the course of their selection timeframe as well as a €18,000 fee. As the name suggests, the programme started with 3 venues, all dotted around the South East of France, and a 4th one was added on the way:
Le 3bisf, contemporary arts centre, Aix-en-Provence
Le Vélo Théâtre, “Maison d’artistes pour le théâtre d’objet, le compagnonnage et le croisement des arts” (I love this description, which I’d very roughly translate by “Artists’ Home for Object Theatre, Companionship (traditional network of knowledge transmission) and Hybridization of Arts), Apt
Le Citron Jaune, National Centre for Public Space Arts, Port-Saint-Louis du Rhône (also home to the fantastic water-based arts company Ilotopie), Port-Saint-Louis du Rhône (in the beautiful Camargue)
To support the emergence of new forms of choreographic creation that weave danse into other artistic practices: visual arts, circus, theatre, philosophy, architecture, cinema, landscape…
To enable reflection, action and experimentation on new relationships between artists, audiences and venue staff
To outline new modes of supporting artistic projects
The process is also firmly based on sharing the different steps of the creative process with the team, audiences and other people involved in each venue (for example, the patients and hospital staff at the 3 bis f).
In 2018, the selected artist was Marta Izquierdo Muñoz, a choreographer from Catalonia based in Perpignan, who explored the figure of the majorette in her new piece Imago-Go during 4 residencies taking place between March and September, each lasting about a week and comprising a public showcase and/or workshop.
In 2017, Gaëtan Bulourde explored the notion of landscape through a performative installation bringing together video, movement and sound, also offering workshops and participatory events at each stage of the creative process.
In 2016, le collectif Etat d’urgence created Dites à ma mère que je suis là, now touring, based on ethnographic research in Calais and exploring the notions of borders, exclusion and policy.
Battersea Arts Centre is an arts centre housed in an old town hall in South West London. It’s a well-loved, well-used community resource, producing, presenting and touring innovative theatre as well as providing a welcoming environment for local residents of all ages for a variety of programmes and workshops.
In 2015, a fire destroyed the Great Hall, BAC’s main performing space, and the immediate and incredibly positive community response is a testament to how valued they are, both by theatre-goers and locals.
Since 2000, BAC’s philosophy has been based on Scratch, a creative principle that puts forward sharing, continuous learning and giving and receiving feedback.
Scratch is about sharing an idea with the public at an early stage of its development. When you Scratch an idea, you can ask people questions and consider their feedback. This helps you work out how to take your idea on to the next stage. It’s an iterative process that can be used again and again. Over time, ideas become stronger because they are informed by a wide-range of responses.
The feedback is an important part of the process but Scratch is not about doing everything that people’s feedback suggests; it is about using the responses to help you understand how people currently receive it and to help you shape your idea. The feedback doesn’t have to be a Q&A, you can simply share your idea ‘live’ and, by doing this, you can often tell what works and what doesn’t. Scratch recognizes that when an idea does not fully succeed, or even when it crashes and burns, that there is great learning to be gathered.
For the full lowdown, this 2015 story on the Google Arts & Culture platformretraces the 15 years of Scratch (officially launched in 2000). The Scratch legacy is huge: more than a more theatre, BAC now acts as an incubator of people and projects, using the creative principles of Scratch to work with artists, teachers, young entrepreneurs, spaces, museums…
There’s lots going on at Battersea Arts Centre, so I’ll just list here a few initiatives that use the Scratch principles in various contexts:
Create Course, a weekly meet-up, where participants (16+) can explore new ways to be creative in their own life, coming together around good food, guest leaders, a lively discussion and creative tasks. Session guest leaders have included poet Deanna Rodger, garden designer Nina Leatherdale, chef Veronica Lopes da Sliva, producer Roisin Feeny, artist Conrad Murray, broadcaster Byron Vincent and spoken-word artist Polarbear… and BAC provides free creche on request.
Collaborative Touring Network: a collaboration between BAC and 8 other producing partners in the UK formed in 2013 to produce, present and promote diverse events “to feed an appetite for culture in communities across the country” and realise the vision of “a nation where everyone has inspiring art and culture on their doorstep”. To date, the network has presented work in over 170 different spaces including parks, community centres, boxing gyms and nightclubs, imagining “new contexts for performances that inspire audiences and artists alike”.
Agents of Creative Change, a free annual professional development programme for artists, public and third sector professionals who have a challenge to tackle in their professional environment, in their community, or both. The programme pairs practitioners with artists and offers a series of workshops to share practice, ideas and trial solutions to the presented challenges. In between meet-ups, participants realise test projects within the community. Previous participants have included those working in the police, local government, health services, employment and offender management. Artists have come from a wide variety of backgrounds including music & beatbox, design, writing, photography, performance work, digital and community theatre.
Scratch Hub, opening in Autumn 2018, will be a creative co-working space based on the Scratch principles, offering members quite a few perks on top of a deskspace, from a time-banking scheme to exchange expertise and skills to talks and scratch nights “to foster collaborations, co-learning and creative conversations”, “opportunities for member-led programming and event hosting” and discounts on shows and food & drink (in the aptly named lovely Scratch Bar).
I’ve been obsessed with Studs Terkel’s brand of oral history since I came across Working, which made me look at the value of work in a whole different way and inspired lots more research and reflection that might translate in the near-ish future into a live art concept.
Human rights lawyers, labour movement activists, teachers, doctors, recovering addicts, death row survivors, radicals of all ages and stripes talk about what keep them jumping through every hoop in their way to make the world better than how they found it.
In the first few pages, I discovered the wonderful Tom Hayden (1939-2016), who drafted the 1962 Port Huron Statement (a radical political manifesto that called for “participatory democracy” ) in his 20s, and went on to play other major roles in anti-war, animal rights and social justice movements.
He’s 62 at the time of this interview with Studs Terkel, and he shares his wisdom about stages of life, the problem with the sixties and his newly-found role as an elder:
It’s not surprising that the idealists are always young. Young people are like eagles, they can see a long way and they don’t have any hindsight. They’re always discovering something new, and they don’t carry as much of the burden of the old. Then comes the second stage of life. I would call it your entry into a career, where you have to make money, you’ve got to settle down somewhat, and you become more like a coyote, more competitive with other people because this is going to determine where you are in the pecking order. So the idealism of the young is tempered by the competitiveness of the thirty-somethings and the forty-somethings. And then the third stage is you get as far as you’re going to go in your career path, you become president of the United States, or a journalist, or a school-teacher, or you get your seniority. And you realize that competition is not going to get you any farther. So you settle down more, you’re the mayor of a city or the city council person or the editor of the newspaper. Here you try to bring together the best of the idealism you had when you were a kid and what you’ve learned about the world and the rat race. So at worst you’re compromised, but at best, you’re a smart idealist, you’re learned something, you’ve matured. Then you go beyond that, in what in this society is usually called old age, but it’s the only opportunity you’ll have for wisdom. You’re no longer really needed as a mayor, because there’s always some guy knocking at the door who wants to replace you, and the end is coming. So this is the last stage. You know what that is? To be an elder. To problem with the sixties, as I look back, was a problem of the elders. It was always defined as a problem of youth, a crisis of youth. But really, that was how the elders defined it. The real problem was that the elders weren’t there. The elders missed the point entirely. I live now with one goal: to try to learn to be the kind of elder who was missing when I was a kid.
Tom Hayden in Studs Terkel’s Hope Dies Last, p. 70 (The New Press, New York, 2003)
The gig economy! Love it or hate it, it seems that we’re all in it. Thank you to Rachel Dobbs from UK-based artistic duo LOW PROFILE for creating an infographic (inspired by Sheila Ghelani‘s own checklist of care) that precarious workers (self-employed, freelance, zero hours…) can use as a reference to decide whether they should or shouldn’t take yet one more contract.
This is a fantastic resource as a risk assessment checklist for helping artists, independent producers and other precarious workers to say ‘no’ to work that may cause more harm than good. Use it, share it and check out Rachel’s original post for more insights into her process and references.
I came across Mike Merrill via an article in The Atlantic detailing his journey into self-commodification. In 2008, he divided his ‘self’ into 100,000 shares and sold them at an initial public offering price of $1 a share. What started out as a creative experiment turned into a full-fledged simulated stock market with shares fluctuating , turning him into a publicly traded person.
As with other projects launched by Mike Merrill, it’s holding a mirror to so many things: financial world, social networks, decision-making process, notions of authorship and readership… with a wonderfully absurd and deadpan strain of humour, but also some pretty serious theory bubbling behind. While his mantra – community through capitalism – can appear worryingly cynical, this reflection on markets as communities is a useful reminder of the role of money in our economies of life: an enabler of exchanges, a tool to build a platform, rather than something with intrinsic interest.
Have you noticed that, in itself, money is kind of one-dimensional and boring? What else can we talk about? These #81, Cluetrain Manifesto
Merrill’s creative response is to take this theory to its logical end: monetise everything, turn his blog into a shop and sell anything from digested reads (written by others), a random spreadsheet straight off his desktop, his attention ($5 for an email response) or his presence at your party (complete with Powerpoint presentation and laser pointer).
The McDonald’s Video Game and Oiligarchy are old favourites, exploring the complex economies of the fast-food and oil industry and revealing how and why decisions are made. Molleindustria is now venturing into VR with a new experiential essay, The Short History of the Gaze… It requires Oculus Rift, so it’s not something I can comment on for the time being, but it makes me curious about the potential of VR for the performing arts.
At the low-tech end, Molleindustria also recently launched Casual Games for Protesters,“an ongoing collection of games to be played in the context of marches, rallies, occupations and other protests” designed to facilitate meaningful participation.
Co-designing the future: Games for Cities
At city scale, what can games and playfulness do for intergenerational and intercultural interaction and participation? Can they help to imagine more inclusive and sustainable cities?
Amsterdam-based Play the City is a city-building agency that creates bespoke games to involve stakeholders in creative problem-solving and imagine new ways to design and govern cities and systems. They respond to challenges ranging from affordable housing and digital development to social change and urban transformation. With a range of partners, they also run the collaborative platform Games for Cities, which recently organised its first international conference, bringing together designers, urbanists and decision-makers.
Paolo Perdecini – him of Molleindustria – was one of the keynote speakers, taking a critical view of SimCity and the simulation game paradigm. SimCity’s ideology is at odds with the real – messy – world, presenting a winning urban ideal that’s all grid-shaped, zone-based and car-centred, devoid of historical class and racial conflicts, and unreservedly buying into the idea of unfettered growth. Perdecini describes his own city games series as Magical Marxism, inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities – and the first chapter, Nova Alea, is a dreamy, intuitive user-led experience. He concludes by calling for a different kind of city game:
What we should make are not games that explain how cities work. But rather games we can use to think about our cities, past, present and future.
That’s where the performing arts approach – and its notions of process, participation and legacy – comes in. Toronto-based Mammalian Diving Reflex has developed an impressive portfolio of playful interventions and platforms for expression, giving voice to children, teenagers and seniors (talking about sex!). In France, public space collective La Folie Kilomètre imagines stories, promenades, poetry and mapping workshops to create new dialogues between people and cities. International platform Playable City platform – led by Bristol’s digital & arts centre Watershed – are working across a network of cities (to date, Bristol, Recife, Lagos, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Oxford and Seoul) to prototype, develop and tour innovative projects that create sparks and disruption in the urban fabric.
Playable City puts people and play at the heart of the future city, re-using city infrastructure and re-appropriating smart city technologies to create connections – person to person, person to city.
Through interaction and creative installations it unlocks a social dialogue, bringing the citizens into a city development conversation – one which will vary in each location.
What’s the relation between the custom-designed civic games of Play the City, city simulation games and these playful embodied artistic experiments? Are they completely different types of ‘games’ responding to different needs and set apart by motivation, purpose, expected outcomes and evaluation methods? What can each type learn from and bring to the other?
We play games not because they are inefficient systems, but because the inefficiency in games—that means that the fastest path between point A and point B is not a direct line—provides some ability to make meaning from that process. (…)
A system with mere inefficiencies is something that’s frustrating. There is no clear opportunity for a meaningful encounter with a system or another person, it’s just about frustration with not being able to proceed.
Deliberation is a great example of a meaningful inefficiency within a democratic process. The quickest way for a group to make a democratic decision would be to vote. But the process of deliberation where there is dialogue that builds over time where multiple stakeholders are involved, and the positionality of those stakeholders matters. That very process is a process that people engage in not because it is efficient, but because it is inefficient. There is opportunity for people to discover things along the way. It is actually designed for that purpose.
In a different interview, he also points out the distinction between ‘gamification’ – making a particular situation more playful in order to nudge users/players to a particular behavior or a desired outcome beneficial to the provider of the game, in other words setting the agenda and employing a behavioristic strategy to motivate people to carry it – and ‘engagement’ or ‘empowerment’ – including play to empower users to set (or at least influence) the agenda themselves. Just like it is important to be aware of ideological biases in simulation games before using them as educational activities, considering the nature of participation is essential when setting up a game-inspired project. Artist-led initiatives and residencies – such as Mary Miss’s City as Living Laboratory – can enable conversations with and amongst residents that city planners and bureaucratic structures find difficult to foster.