The 2014 Creative Time Summit: Reflections on Public Art & Social Practice

17 Dec 2014

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Community feast on Pearl Street, using tables and chairs designed by Walter Hood, built by community members during an Asian Arts Initiative block party. Photo by Tim Kyuman Lee.

On November 24, twenty members of the cultural community gathered at The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage to watch and discuss streamed video excerpts from a recent summit held in Stockholm, Sweden on the subjects of public art and social practice.

Organized by Creative Time, the New York City-based public art producer, in conjunction with Public Art Agency Sweden, the summit presented a variety of speakers from around the world on issues relevant to artists and arts practitioners whose work engages audiences outside of the traditional museum/gallery context and interacts on a more personal level with individuals and communities. (Presentations are now available to view on the summit's website.)

At the Center, we gathered art curators, public historians, artists, and activists to respond to issues raised at the Stockholm summit that are significant for cultural practice in our region. The Center asked three of our constituents to lead discussions on the major subjects probed at the summit. Selina Morales, Director of the Philadelphia Folklore Project, addressed issues of migration; Judy Hellman, Director of Special Projects at the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, spoke to the topic of performing the city; Robert Blackson, Director of Tyler School of Art's Department of Exhibitions and Public Programs, interrogated problems in activating public space.

Although there were many issues that emerged during our two-hour conversation and there was lively debate about strategies and tactics, the discourse unearthed a few areas of consensus about healthy practices when working in the public sphere:

  • Interrogate our intentions regularly and throughout the life of a project.
  • Emphasize accountability. How is the impact of a project, both short-term and long-term, being assessed and evaluated?
  • Avoid "resource extraction" from a community.
  • When leaving a community, leave as many "tools" behind as possible.
  • Be conscious of the fact that there will always be tension between institutional and community/individual interests.
  • Don't be afraid of disorientation during the process. It is natural and demonstrates that change is actually taking place.

The Center will continue to develop capacity building opportunities and initiate discussion on these topics, which are highly pertinent to many contemporary artistic practices.