ixia: public art think tank

ixia has taken over the ownership and management of Public Art Online from Arts Council England. The design and content of the website are currently being reviewed.

Bookmark and Share

Building Cultures - Art and Our City

A Preliminary Report

A collaborative event developed by Birkbeck, University of London and the London Centre for Arts and Cultural Enterprise.

The Series Overview

As part of the Building Cultures series Birkbeck, University of London and the London Centre for Arts and Cultural Enterprise (LCACE) ran a series of discussions exploring the relationships between art, community, urban regeneration, and activism. The three seminars were co-ordinated by Birkbeck's Dr Cameron Cartiere, who is the course director for the college's Arts Management MA programme.

This series of discussions examined the role of art in community engagement, regeneration, and activism. It brought together artists, educators, politicians, and community activists, in order to take a holistic look at the role of art in our changing city. Amongst numerous issues and concerns that transpired from the participants and the audience, the series explored the following questions: Does public art have a measurable impact on a community? Can art facilitate a sustainable form of urban regeneration? Who are arts activists protecting and is anybody listening?

The Panel Participants

The discussions were held on three consecutive weeks in May 2006 at three different venues.

The first session was took place on May 8 at Tate Modern, was chaired by Cameron Cartiere , and focused on Public Art and Community Engagement. The panel participants included artist Peter Fink of Art2Architecture; Alan Rossiter from Freeform; Louise Wardle, the producer of Channel 4's Big Art Project; and Sophie Hope and Sarah Carrington of B+B, a curatorial partnership specializing in art projects in the public realm.

The second session was held at the Greater London Authority (GLA) on May 16 and was chaired by Birbeck lecturers William Ackah and Penny Koutrolikou. The discussion focused on Art, Community, and Urban Regeneration and featured panel members Ben Seymour of the London Particular; Justine Simons, Cultural Strategy Manager for the GLA; Anna Harding of Space Studios; and Isabelle Fremeaux from Birbeck's department of Film and Media Studies in the Faculty of Continuing Education.

The third and final session took place at Whitechapel Gallery on May 24. The focus of the evening was Art Activism and the Community. Chaired by Professor Annie E. Coombes, the panel included Jane Trowell from PLATFORM, Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, visiting professor at Birkbeck; artist and writer David Beech of Sheffield Hallam University; and art activist Poulomi Desai.

Issues and concerns that surfaced over the discussion series

Session one - evaluation trends: concerns that current calls for proposals and pre-evaluation checklists are too all encompassing and unrealistic. Artists in the audience were concerned that given the current trends, when they prepared a proposal for a public work, they needed to demonstrate how the work would inspire a community, reduce crime, respond to the environment, contribute to urban renewal and/or support rural sustainability, provide educational and cultural opportunities, and inspire debate without being confrontational.

Session two - in the shadow of London's continually rising house prices and the upcoming 2012 Olympic Games that will radically change the landscape of the eastern reaches of the capital, the lively and sometimes heated discussion quickly turned towards concerns about mass redevelopment, community displacement at the proposed Olympic venues, and the homogenization of the remaining unique neighbourhoods that currently surround the Olympic sites.

Session three - a surprisingly calm session considering the auditorium was filled to capacity with art activists; however, the discussion was far from passive. The central questions of the evening revolved around concerns of how to maintain community involvement over an extended period, finding true representation in the political arena, and fostering change through 'slow activism.'

One of the common concerns that surfaced across the series was that throughout the past decade artists have heard a repeated call from arts agencies for the need to educate the public as to the potential and promise of public art. The concern for many artists now is that arts commissions and funding bodies need to be re-educated to have realistic expectations of art in the public realm.

Next steps: Taking inspiration from a Community of Common Interest

The initial hope for the series was to go beyond the common 'one-off' evening panel discussion and create an opportunity for an extend conversation around some of the key issues facing artists working in a publicly-engaged practice within our city's current social and political climate. Over the course of the three evenings the organisers witnessed a significant percentage of the audience returning for each session. Panel members from earlier sessions voluntarily became audience members in subsequent sessions and the overlapping concerns of community engagement, urban regeneration, and art activism bubbled to the surface of the discussions without having to be forced to a boil by the respective panel chairs.

From the inception of the project, the organizers knew that they wanted to document and publish transcripts of the series to reach an extended audience. Despite the fact that there was a feeling of success in creating an opportunity to take the conversation beyond previous limitations, there was still a feeling of frustration that these groups of highly motivated and concerned people had been brought together for a discussion that did not have a finite consequence.

In response, the organizers of the series are now working on the next phase of the project. They will be reviewing and analyzing the video recordings of the three sessions to identify the main overlapping issues and areas of interest to take forward into a daylong event. The aim of the event will be to invite back all of the panel and audience members from the series to participate in a facilitated workshop to develop a report to submit to the Arts Council and the Mayor of London.

The intended aim of the report is to identify areas of concern within current public art practice (related to the discussion series) and present recommendations from this 'community of common interest' for ways forward in the future. It is an admittedly ambitious experiment, but one that is inspired by the enthusiastic spirit and optimism of series participants.

In addition to the workshop, tentatively scheduled for Spring 2007, the organizers are developing a publication that will include a transcription of the series, essays by chairs to contextualize sessions, and the workshop results.

The Birkbeck Building Cultures Series is developed in collaboration with Goldsmiths College and Queen Mary University of London. Additional events are being planned and further information will be available as these projects develop. For more information contact: Marjorie Hoek, Business Relations Unit, Arts and Cultural Enterprise, [email protected] , 020 7079 0736.