So the other part of this project, besides the now famous walk, is getting others to walk. Namely artists.
I came into the program in Community Development thinking I would study Community Arts and Youth Development. Indeed, I had even turned down an offer from Columbia College in Chicago to do a program by the same name. As I started working, though, I realized that maybe I was more interested in *making* art in community spaces than in reading about it.
Furthermore, I was pretty turned off by a lot of the community arts literature. Much of it seemed either (1) too fluffy for critical me or (2) too demanding of artists -- like they ought to be at the helm of creating social change every day, and if they weren't they were being irresponsible. Also, when folks spoke of "bringing the shamanic fire back into the community," it seemed essentializing and lame. Artists make art, que no?
Ok, clearly it's waaaaaay more complicated than that. But what I'm getting at is that sometimes community arts should clearly be about inspiring social change, and sometimes there should just be a place for people to get together and make boring watercolors, or simply comment on the human experience. In fact, this is the kind of community art that quite interests me, that which I think is vital to the "ecology" of a healthy community.
Let me explain... we know from ecosystem studies that you can't study elements of a healthy natural community in isolation -- what's really important is the system. Like how plant health is often based on the fungus living on their roots. So to think about community arts in the "outcomes based model" under which so many nonprofits function is often kind of useless. There's no really good way to account for how arts make people happy and calm and fulfilled. A few weeks ago, I went to a conference at UC-Berkeley sponsored by the Center for Community Innovation where they dealt with just this issue. It was actually really important to hear these things articulated.
SO back to the project. I knew that as part of "Beating the Bounds," I wanted to involve artists. What has resulted is that I am recruiting artists from every community where there is a train station. They go out and walk the tracks too, either alone or with me; then they use their art to comment. So far, I have on board the following:
Steven Holloway, Berkeley: printmaker, cartographer, mapmaker.
Susan Wolf, Berkeley: printmaker, photographer.
Sally Rodriguez, Martinez: painter
Monica Storss, Davis: poet
Joshua Short, Davis: artist of many stripes
I am still looking for artists from Emeryville, Richmond, and Suisun/Fairfield. Lemme know if you have someone.
Also, I started talking to a tapdancer from Oakland yesterday in line at Best Buy (talking to strangers is what I do best!), so hopefully that'll happen too.
For the artists, I want them to really consider the space itself, and their experience in it. A little nebulous, but I'm excited for the results. Also, instead of just having an opening (in Davis! beginning of June! be there!) I'm also having a day of learning for faculty, students, artists and community members to come learn about the project, and share what they found out in their explorations. June 1. This is largely a response to the tendency for people to hand their art to a curator, maybe (or maybe not) show up to an opening, and then leave it. I am more interested in integrating the forms of learning we have all undertaken, and in educating one another on artistic interventions such as these.
So back to the original question: why artists? Because they see things differently. A large part of their function in this "ecosystem" that I speak of is to see differently for the rest of us, to be "experts in imagination." (Vaclav Havel, I think.) So if we are really going to interrogate space, really give it the shakedown, it seems vital that they be part of this process.
Their role in this project, therefore, is twofold: To experiment with how art/ists might be part of considering new spaces (more on the participatory design end of things), and to consider if/how "artist" and "academic" see things differently. Also, to consider how to integrate those points of view into a meaningful whole.