Week 27: Design Studio for Social Intervention

[Steven]: So Scott, how do we know the Design Studio for Social Intervention?

[Scott]: Actually I don't.  I talked with Kenneth Bailey and Lori Libenstein over the phone yesterday for the first time.  They were recommended to us by David Morgan from Brownswell Collective, who we have been talking with for quite awhile.  We just haven't had the chance to have him in on one of these weekly events yet.  Although there has been a lot of email discussion.  Yeah, he is involved with them and there are a number of other people involved with the Design Studio for Social Intervention in Boston.  So we just finally wanted to connect with them.  Ultimately, all until about them that is what I've been reading about on their site and what James and a few various people I've been talking with have told us.  But we know about this practice in general.  It's not as if we are approaching this fresh for the first time.

[Steven]: What this means about the whole thing if the notion of the design right?  Because, you know, we usually think of design as being something that is sort of voluntarily and self consciously imposed on objects and spaces.  And they've decided to take it to a different level or a different place and say "yeah, I don't know, justice!  Let's design justice!"  Because nobody has done anything about it, there is this thing called social justice and it's not working very well.  It's more like injustice.  Let's design it.  And they decided to apply and to take art and design seriously enough to apply it to the forms in which personal relations take place in society.  I think that's a pretty interesting take on what we call Plausible Artworlds

[Scott]: Yeah, it seems like they use the tools of design specifically.  Or at least tried to use those methodologies.  So we're looking at, we were talking with Kent from Democratic Innovation a few weeks ago.  They have taken a similar approach; the idea of democracy in general is what's the content of that 10 year project through working with different people.  I guess I mentioned that in the same breath because there are a lot of people that we're looking at who are instrumentalizing themselves specifically.

Actually, we don't have a Wi-Fi here right now.  There are different ones you can pick up.

But, they seem to not be opposed in any way to instrumentalize themselves as artists.  I think that a lot of artists have a problem with that.  A lot of people in art have a problem with that.  Many of the people that we have been talking to don't.  And these people seem to, even in the title of their name, just be embracing it fully head on.

[Steven]: Yeah, that's pretty cool.  You know, we talk about our projects that have to, like, hide themselves.  We look for theories that help us to understand why are would like seek a maximal amount of visibility or seek a minimum amount.  And then we have these people, and that's why we want to talk to them, right?  It's because they're saying "Yeah, we want to use these tools that have been created over the last 30,000 years of art and design or whatever to promote social justice.  So why the (explicative 0:04:53.9) not?"

[Scott]: Yeah exactly.  I was struggling a little bit on the site to find information about the projects that they are involved in.  I mean, there are a few things that I could see.  Life Lab is one of them.  But yeah, it might be actually hard to talk about them in specific unless any of you guys here know them well.  We might just kind of need to talk about those kinds of practices in general for maybe the next half an hour.  Steven, at the very least you and I could do that.  At the other people here would watch or have something to say about that too (laughing).

[Steven]: One of the challenges over these kinds of projects over the years obviously has been that it's one thing to pay lip service for this kind of an idea.  It's another thing to actually do it.  You know, it seems like a cool idea when cognitive capitalism, like the mainstream process of accumulation, is using these techniques.  It seems cool, more than cool.  It seemed socially or ethically or morally kind of obligatory to not leave the monopoly of them into the hands of the adversary.  To try and use them to do something (inaudible 0:06:31.9) and socially positive, but true.  Usually what ends up happening is not much socially positive at all despite the very sincere wishes of the artist.  What ends up happening is that the artist becomes the sole signatory of the initiative.  So I don't know if this is or not the case, but I'm interested in talking to our guest tonight, whenever they show up, about how it is they avoid that kind of a paradox.  That pitfall.  Even in the cases that we've discussed this past half year we had some cases where it's been rather dubious.  We were actually not in an art project and rather and a project of social justice.  And that's what's interesting about this design project is that they are explicitly in favor of interventionism and social justice.  They are not talking about art primarily.

[Scott]: Yeah it's crazy.  I mean, this whole, I think Greg Schlotte's "Dark Matter" project, one of his big interests is in looking at the different art practices that are not exposed to the light, I guess, which really are visiblized yet.  I know that the Dark Matter archives really hold a lot of updated practices yet, but, these are among the things that are going to be flushing that out.  It's kind of crazy when you look at artist social practice, the explosion of artists who are interested and involved in other social justice movements.  It almost parallels the mainstream ARTWORLD because there are so many people involved.  It's kind of hard to know what to do with all of that.

[Steven]: Yeah, no sure.  Scott, I want to say one thing and that is that the sound tonight is unbelievably clear.  So I am hearing this perfectly.  I think there are two kinds of scenarios we can talk about.  One is where you have non-artists, like social activists who are doing things that are actually perceived as art so we would see them as a plausible artworld.  But in fact they're really intervening for greater forms of social justice.  After the first kind of phenomenon, you have artists who are doing that as well but aware that what they're doing is not actually perceived as art.  It's perceived as social interventionism.  So those are the two kinds of, it's kind of a, I don't know… a keyosmos.  That X phenomenon where you have a crossing of competences and incompetence is of desires and contingencies basically.  That would be the question I would really want to ask to our guests is whether or how they have managed to configure that kind of a form of convergence.

[Asheesh]: Hi, I'm Asheesh.  Am I talking loudly enough?  Probably not for you guys.

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[Asheesh]: Whoa!  OK, hi!  I'm Asheesh.  So I find this design studio for social intervention kind of interesting because I sort of accidentally became, I accidentally did something similar to what they do.  A few years ago when I was in college, I was frustrated with what I felt was a lack of interest in non academic or non, like, career interests among the students where I went to school.  So I, with some friends, inflated 288 inflatable pink flamingos and put them on the quad.  I guess I realize, I guess I'm trying to understand, how that fits into the concept of plausible Artworlds.  On one hand, the whole point of it was to be a plausible show of whimsy and make people up to the idea that there are other things than what they think about on a daily basis.  I guess, so, we were trying to build a plausible artworld but we're trying to shock people into what I felt was something that was kinda along the ideas of social justice.  I guess I'll stop talking now and see what you think.

[Steven]: Scott?  Do want to deal with that?


[Scott]: Sure, I guess so.  I don't know how it specifically works with plausible Artworlds.  All this initiative is…

[Asheesh]: I mean I would want to deflate it or say that it's small because, you know, these days it's kind of easy to make a gigantic project.  You just add a curatorial component, invite 100 people you know who have extensive networks already and all of a sudden it's a ginormous project.  You know, it's…  So this is one of those two, but, and its course while certain ideas around it might be kind of complex it's actually pretty simple, I think.  You know, Steven and I might agree on this.  You know I think we're really interested in not just the certain, well objects that people make only or even an artwork that someone makes that might be a social practice type artwork.  But, we're interested in people that create different kinds of conditions under which different creative activity can happen or be understood differently.  You know.  Or understood as creative practice even.  And that's what an artworld is and that's why we adopted that term.

 And I think our initial, really what this project does, is two things.  It's pluralizes what in artworld is or what often referred to as the artworld when we're looking at different ones.  And not only different worlds, but ones that are structured differently than the one most commonly referred to as the artworld.  The one that we refer to as the mainstream artworld.  And two, it's looking at not only fully established networks that everyone would recognize as Artworlds but sometimes they are vast.  There might be thousands of people involved, or hundreds.  Or it can be quite enormous.  There could be a lot of money involved.  There could be a lot of territory involved or whatever.  But in some cases it's just a few people and well we take the stance that even in those cases where it's only a few people that it could be what Steven refers to as a fledgling artworld.  The beginnings of an artworld.  And that's why we're looking at, referring to the as plausible.  You know, because they are not just things that are established already.  They are things that, you know, you can buy for their plausibility however defined.  We really don't set strict criteria for what defines that.  We're more interested in the discussions around it.  So, in any case, I think that as long as you're talking about people that set up an environment that either enables, accompanies, allows for or helps to provide an understanding for what creative practice can be, then that's an artworld in that it doesn't reflect a mainstream model.  That particular example is something that is not necessarily innovative, per say, but it is experimenting with what creative life could be.  Then we really like to and want to look at those things as plausible Artworlds and kind of see where it lands as different people weigh in on that.  Do think that makes sense Steven?

[Steven]: Yeah, yeah, that's the gist of it.  I mean, you know, I was looking at the pictures the other day of... The European space program recently sent up a satellite to take pictures of the universe and they wanted to take pictures of the universe and its early days.  What the (explicative 0:16:21.1) is that?  The universe and its early days, you know?  Because apparently in the beginning of the universe, that's their hypothesis, there was nothing to see because the energy was not stable enough to actually hold light.  It could actually host photons.  And so were looking at these pictures they sent back, which are incredibly beautiful, are pictures of our universe before you can actually see it.  So it's kinda like, it raises the question of why we talk about worlds.  What we talk about universes, you know?  Well, I guess there are not universes, its universe.  And then why are there worlds and not just a world?  Well, obviously that means that a world is something which can be a redesigned and I think that's the kind of sense of the discussion this evening.  You can't redesign a universe.  The universe is kind that thing which, like, is hoisted upon it.  But what interesting is the, you know, this group, which when they show up, what their talk about is actually redesigning the thing but it's the same kind of logic.  There was stuff that was there that was not visible because it could host light at a certain point.  It was too energetic, actually, to actually a form of photon or graphed upon or whatever.  Like, I'm speaking metaphorically but in a certain sense that's what we're talking about.  

We're talking about the fledgling kind of projects which are not quite visible and why are they not visible?  It's because light quite can't stick onto them yet.  And yet it's all about redesigning things.  It's all about, like, doing things the way you want to do it.  You know, I mean we could look at the specific examples of what they are doing.  Probably we actually should do that.  The Design Studio for Social Intervention gets involved, right?  They actually, they look…  For example, there's this phenomenon which they worked on what working class largely African American neighborhoods in Boston.  This project which they called, what was the word they used?  It was when people look at each other in a specific way.  When you grid somebody, when you like…  What was the word for that?  That project?  Let me just look to their.

[Female Group Member]: Steven, I think Scott just went to the bathroom (laughing).

[Steven]: Oh, okay.


[Female Group Member]: I don't know the word though.

[Asheesh]: I mean we're interested (laughing).  

[Steven]: Hang on. I'm going to look it up now.  

[Asheesh]: I think that I wasn't quite clear about what I was saying before and so I thought of it and clarified it.  When I talked about the flamingos, it was because I think that it shared a sense of the intervention with the design studio for social intervention.  I mean, we were trying to do, so I just want to their website whose front page defines intervention and talked about how it is the fact, the act or fact interfering with the condition to modify it or the process changes course.  And the point of these flamingos was to provide an intervention with a specific moment of the shocking display of meaninglessness.  To help people change their course and to consider more whimsical things as part of their lives.  And so I guess, that will sort of be the frame that I'm thinking about the design studio for social intervention from.  Since its part of my life and not really part of anyone else's accept Blake here who helped me lug the flamingos around.

[Blake]: (inaudible 0:20:33.5)

[Asheesh]: Weren't they in your car once?  You drove us from the airport to the farm where we stored them for few days.

[Blake]: But they weren't inflated then.

[Asheesh]: They weren't inflated then, they were in a box yeah.  Um, anyway, that sort of my perspective of social intervention twisted with art.  So I'm curious how they will do it.

[Steven]: I'm just reading the story of the, um, of the design studio about what they call "The Grill".  You know, it seems that, I don't know these things myself and that's not my culture but, check this out.  Somebody walks through a neighborhood in Boston.  You kind of a grill somebody else with your eyes and either it provokes them standing down or them engaging in some sort of conflict.  And they've decided to use that notion of "The Grill", obviously a very powerful form of social interaction, as a design tool but to kind of deviate it into a different way of social engagement.  Rather than creating a sort of black on black violence or inter communal violence of any kind, using that kind of energy to move (inaudible 0:22:11.5) and I think that's really a (expletive 0:22:13.2) fascinating idea of world design.  Of saying "yeah we can make plausible worlds, ya know?  We can just design them".

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[Steven]: Yeah, you could say that.  But there's more than one way to skin a cat, right?  I mean you can just say "Oh yeah" like as you said, but, you can also try to redesign it on a more (inaudible 0:24:01.1) kind of a social scale.  Like in a neighborhood or across a…  But rather, you know, well I don't want to put words in the mouths of the people who are invited to speak.  But it would seem to me looking at forms of interpersonal relations and, you know, not even personal, I don't know personal community relations.  Um, which go beyond that kind of sort of simplistic reaction that everyone should have every time but actually reconfiguring the kind of parameters and engagements.  They talk about frames.

[Asheesh]: Yeah it's super interesting.  I was just trying to find more info about that online.

[Scott]: Yeah I definitely want to ask them about the grill (laughing).  But yeah, by the way Steven, I don't know if you got my message but basically in about between 5 and 10 minutes we're going to call them on a mobile phone because they…

[Steven]: Yeah.

[Scott]: Oh, okay cool.

[Steven]: You know what, the thing that I like about it even know no matter what they will say, what I like about it is they take art seriously and design.  I mean that's kind of a byproduct of art, but, they'd take it seriously as something which can actually be used not just to be instrumentalized by cognitive capitalism and creative capitalism to, you know, for the accumulation of some things value in the hands of the few.  But actually can be used as something to really positively or negatively transformed forms of social engagement.  And that's really, no matter what it is they have to say about it, that's really cool.

[Asheesh]: Yeah I'm (inaudible 0:26:06.7) a link to their blog here too, which anybody who goes to their website can easily see.  But I'm just pointing out that that this is kind of a separate micro site for them that has a lot of, well, various things there are going on or have been going on anyway.

[Scott]: Yeah, you know, one of the things I wondered about what the plausible Artworlds examples was whether it would be good to have, to look at some Meta artworlds.  You know kind of these larger networks.  Part of our goal for this year was to look at concrete examples one after the other every week for the year.  And, I mean, I can definitely go for much longer than a year.  I could go much more frequent than just once a week too.  But it's kind of enough for us right now.

[Steven]: Yeah you know what? I think that's pretty ambitious of you.  Even to define and in a respectful way, once a week is about as much as we can manage.  Honestly I don't think we could do more.  I mean, you know?  It would be hard.

[Scott]: Well not so much with the resources that we have.  But I just mean, there are so many examples out there I guess was my point.  And, and uh...

[Steven]: Yeah, sure.

[Scott]: And 52 of them is sufficiently bewildering, but it's also not nearly enough.  And I think one of the thoughts that keeps crossing my mind, and I know Steven and I have talked about this, and every so often someone else asks us about something like this is that, you know, what about some of these really large conferences.  You know, where not only thousands of people show up but hundreds and hundreds of, well at least hundreds of, practices that would be people we would invite to talk to each week.  People we would want to talk to each week.  And some of them are so intimately connected, intertwined, that they might be seemed as kind of a Meta or one of those larger kinds of art worlds that would parallel.  You know, if we were talking about different worlds we might talk about just the gallery, not necessarily just plausible ones, mainstream ones.  We might talk about things that are normally considered to be part of "The".  We might talk about galleries and Chelsea or Brooklyn or London or we might talk about a whole region.  So what we are looking at these examples sometimes it feels like "well perhaps we might wanna talk about the much larger collection of examples that kind of work together and sometimes play together".  For instance, hacktavists.  Spaces, hacker spaces or people involved in so called hacktavism generally.  It might be good to look at it a grouping of them as opposed to just one small group or one initiative, especially when they do band together not just to generalize everyone but to focus on that larger thing that they are working as a concrete example itself.  And in this case, there is a city from (inaudible 0:29:54.6) conference not too long ago and there have been others, a few others, since then quite major on the art and activism front end on that are and social justice overlap.  You know, that may be good to think about and to talk about with them.

[Steven]: Well, sure.  I mean, Scott, we are repeating things we've said before.  We don't have a kind of an idea about what a plausible would be.  Obviously, if people are proposing in one way or another in a very minor way, minor but nevertheless salient an way, a feature which is significantly different than from the mainstream, which we call THE artworld, then we are prepared to consider it as a plausible artworld.  And so, I mean, The City from Below, yeah.  It could be plugged into every single way into mainstream.  Except in one very significant way which makes it differ, and for us that the plausible.

[Scott]: Yeah sure, definitely.

[Steven]: It's significantly different.  I mean, what these guys are talking about, what the design studio is talking about, there actually saying "let's design things.  Let's not just say hey, there's this Plausible out there, let's go into it!" They're saying, "Let's design one."  You know, it's somehow freeing and empowering by saying "yeah, lets revamp that thing!"  And kind of, that's what the mainstream always is doing.  So we should be doing it too.

[Scott]: Yeah, I mean it's true.  A lot of what we look at, or interested our people who are, I mean, we kind of adopted this from Disney, but who are imagineering the world around them and a specially certain kinds of setups that allow creative practices to happen differently.  Um, so yeah, I guess there something implied, well not just implied, but something in the way they describe of the design process and how they design.  I agree with you Steven, for sure.

Asheesh, did you wanna ask about that or talk?  Oh, he didn't really care what Steven was saying or what I was saying about mainstream?  Oh.  Steven, someone was asking if you would mind repeating what you're just saying about a mainstream.  I felt like you're kind of responding to what I was saying (laughing).  So, to help clarify that...

[Steven]: Yeah sure.  You know what, and I kind of don't remember exactly what I just said.  The thing is the question about mainstream is like in any river.  You know, it's undeniable that there's a mainstream.  You know, that's just like the way the river goes.  But, rivers change over time and even when they don't change, there are minor steams.  And, what I was saying is that a mainstream tends to respond to the interests of the dominant powers in our society and the dominant interests and so on.  It doesn't quite correspond because it's a stream, I mean it's moving.  So there never keeping up with it exactly.  What we are talking about his stuff that is not in that stream exactly at all.  I don't know what to say exactly.  The non-mainstream is that we are saying that art is too big of a word to be absorbed into that one stream.  There are a number of other ones and, in fact, of those things are worlds.

[Female Group Member]: Last weekend I was (interrupts Steven)...oh.

[Steven]: You can't just...

[Female Group Member]: Oh, sorry.  Were you finished?  Steven, were you finished?

[Steven]: I was finished.

[Female Group Member]: Sorry.  I was just going to say after thinking a little bit about mainstream, actually, more about groups.  It's and I was thinking about how last week and I went to, or a couple weekends ago, I went to the American Visionary Museum in Baltimore.  Is that what it's called? So, it makes me think a lot about the individual versus the group.  I mean, really, those are definitely Plausible Artworlds that the artists that they've show have.  But one distinction might be that it's the individual versus the group.  And it seems to me, and maybe I'm wrong as I haven't been to all of these Plausible Artworlds, but it seems like it's mostly group work and individuals together.  Those sorts of layers that seem to be.  Nonetheless, that museum was amazing and those artists are such visionaries in totally making their own world.  American Visionary Museum.

[Asheesh]: I haven't been there, I lived in Baltimore.  I drove by it a few times (laughing).  Embarrassing, I know. (Laughing).  But the thing about the American Visionary Museum is that the art there reflects people's unique internal artworlds.  And so when you talk about individual versus a group, I sort of think about four expressing one's internal state versus four unifying people who share some vision or organizing idea about the world.  So this, well, yeah social intervention seems to be quite on topic for that.

[Female Group Member]: They don't really use that word "outsider".  They like to say "visionary".  I think it's a good distinction.  I mean, because they're inside the museum.

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[Scott]: I mean, you were asking about groups too?  And it is true that this particular initiative has a bias towards group practice.  I think probably one of the reasons, well I mean, it's just bias.  Maybe a reason why we were interested in this is because there's also a mutual interest between the people that are helping to organize it and also many of the people involved.  An interest in group and collective practices.  Um, yeah, totally.  Theresa was also just asking if there have been any examples of artworlds that we've looked at, people that we've talked with where it's really just a single person.  Ultimately, no because we would never know about it if that was the case.  But in a way, there have been some people that we've talked with and looked at where... For example there are people that pose as a group.  There are some examples of that that we've looked at and talked too.

(Inaudible comment from group member 0:39:09.2)

Yeah, exactly, yeah.  So this has been a long discussion about how reducible is a world.  Can you reduce it to one person?  Can you have a world of one zone?  Ultimately, we think that no, you can't.  Can you have a kind of world where there's just two people?  Arguably. No but arguable yes.  The jury is kind of out on that.  It's up for debate.

[Steven]: At certain points Scott, we said that a world was not possible at two or at three.  It had to be beyond that.  Because it's become very fashionable for a person in contemporary art circles to pursue a signal signature style and practice and at the same time work within a collective.  At that's legitimate enough.  But, a world doesn't exist just because you link up with one other person or you create some name to be fashionable.  It really exists because there's a, I would say, when there's a mutualization of incompetence.

[Scott]: Yeah, exactly (inaudible 0:40:36.8).  Yeah, it sort of seams ridiculous to say there is a world when there's really just a few people.  It's almost like a grandiose metaphor for a couple of friends (laughing).  But then again, what we're interested in it doesn't really matter.  We're not really judging or evaluating at all the whole scale of setups and the environments that people create.  We're more interested in who they operate and how they're structured and the entailments of them if we were to imagine scaling them.  Even if it is less than a dozen people.  SO yeah, I think that's probably what's part of what has conflated the issue a little bit.  You asked about this last week.  Or mentioned this last week, that sometime's we're looking for examples that are more or less a project only.  Sometimes they're a group of people. Sometimes a small group and sometimes a pretty big group.  Other times, their initiatives that are much larger or networks of other groups of people that then the scale goes up.  But none of those, I don't think anyway, have been, like, what this way of looking at it does, I think anyway, is an attempt to try to evaluate these.  It may be to discuss or try to get a better understanding of the implications of a particular way of structuring something or doing something.  But it's not to say that, anyway, I'm repeating myself now (laughing).

But yeah, I think that's the main goal.  So really, unless someone comes up with good criteria, I don't really know of any criteria of saying what makes a world.  Except that we can pretty easily say that it's hard, at the very least, it's hard to say that a single person is a world.

Uh, I'm going to add Guy.

(Silence 0:43:05.7)

Oh, so, we're getting to the point where I'm going to try giving them a call.  Give the people that we've sort of been peripherally talking about for the last hour, a call (laughing).  So, if you guys don't mind just hanging out for a sec or continuing to chat.  I'm going to step away and try to call them on the mobile first to set it up.

(Audio Feed Lost 0:44:00.1 - 0:54:07.0)

[Scott]: Hey, and we're back.  It looks like the reason I wasn't able to patch through to them, I just tried a different route, is that they're actually in a different time zone.  So, there was some confusion about what time.  By the time they're ready to be called, we're actually going to wrap up in about a half an hour from now.  So, OH NOES!


Yeah, we could definitely try to approach this using just askey or emoticons (laughing).  Yeah, well, in any case, it still brings up interesting questions and I briefly tried to pull Kenny away.  But he let me know that they're still in the middle of this workshop with all these people.  So, it was just not going to be easy for them because they don't have Skype set up.  If they did we could probably just try to patch everyone in.  But it was more like I was able to call his mobile phone.  So, in any case, not to focus on that too much, I mentioned that we'd like to follow up with him about some of the questions that came up while looking at their work.  You know, the differences between certain things that they do or some of the solutions that they've found to approach interventionist art, or I'd say community art.  So called community art practices in ways that they don't just become instrumentalized by the state or just help to continue to perpetuate certain ideas about privilege.  Some of the things that are very difficult for people that are involved in community arts or other things we mentioned.  Specifically, what they mean by design and what it means to design a world.  He said he's very interested, they're all very interested, to talk with us.  I can only tease you with that though right now.

Oh gosh Jessica!  We just clicked on that link (laughing).  It's not safe for work (laughing). Um, indeed.

Yeah, so, it's a little too hot to think today.  How is it in Chicago?  I'm just curious.  Did you guys just arrive in Chicago, Jessica and Adam?

[Jessica]: (inaudible 0:57:21.9) yeah, we moved in on Friday.

[Scott]: That's so awesome.

[Jessica]: Yeah (inaudible 0:57:27.7).

[Scott]: Oops.  Can you say that again?  We kind of...

[Jessica]: It is hot.

[Scott]: Yeah, okay.

[Jessica]: But that doesn't explain the video


[Scott]: Yeah, sometimes it's so hot that's all you can really talk about.  Is just how hot it is.  Yeah, there's definitely so much going on in Philly that there's a lot of... I guess you could say there are a lot of community arts programs.  We've touched on this in some past weeks.  To me it seems like some of the things that came up here are really crucial. Just some of the questions that Steven posed and that a few other people had touched on are really crucial because, like Steven said, a lot of times those community programs just fall painfully short.  I guess, like I had just mentioned, it's hard for anyone not to be absorbed into larger addenda.   I mean, in a way, sometimes you could say "well, it doesn't really matter because if you're doing some good for someone then who cares if someone else's agenda is satisfied?"  And that's probably true.  But when the premise of what that community arts group is doing is that this is something that's empowering to the community at large or that particular community.  Often times it is arguably counterproductive.  You know, we had talked about how Philadelphia is a city of murals.  There's a program that kind of tries to (laughing)...hey?  

Is somebody snoring (laughing)?  I swear, it sounds like someone is (laughing).


Steven!  That's you!

[Jessica]: So Scott, the city of Philadelphia is a city of murals?

[Scott]: Jessica, yeah!

[Jessica]: So, whose agenda is that serving?

[Scott]: Yeah, exactly.  Well, you know what, I hate to say but I think....I'm not really sure to be honest.


It is actually 2:00am there so I wouldn't be entirely surprised.  I hate to, to a.....

(Commotion, laughter, chatter and snoring 1:00:18.2)

[Scott]: Sorry, I didn't really realize what was happening there.  So Philadelphia is the city of murals, or at least it has an extensive mural arts program.  There's debate on whether or not this is actually good.  Whether it is good in the ways that it reports to be good.

[Jessica]: Yeah.

[Scott]: I mean, what does it mean to be good anyway?  But, specifically, by its own self definition, is it empowering?  People that take it very seriously would argue, you know, that it's artistic value anyway, but is it even culturally empowering.  Sorry, go ahead Jessica.

[Jessica]: Oh, no.  I was just saying that it may give some people some opportunities.  But who knows, like its relationship with the neighborhood and everything gets really complicated after that.  Adam and I are just sort of getting our bearings here in Chicago, but like the situation we're coming out of where it seems like every community bases initiative was sort of swept up into this massive marketing campaign.  We saw that happen again and again. So, we're kind of in a state right now where we're stepping back and sort of looking at things in a broader way.

(Loud snoring 1:01:51.6)

I'll be right back.

[Scott]: Uh, I think you got cut off for a second Jessica.  Can you do...? Oh!  Be right back.  Okay.  It was just kind of mid-sentence and I didn't catch that. Yeah, I'm very interested in what's going on with them because they're actually going to be teaching at the Art Institute of Chicago and brining a lot of these ideas to the students there.  And, Chicago also happens to be a city where there are a lot of art and activist practices.  So that's definitely going to be probably some interesting cross city (laughing) discussions about this stuff.

(Inaudible question from group member 1:02:55.2)

[Scott]: Uh, no, they are... Actually, yeah.  Around the area but I've been living in Tennessee for awhile, yeah.

[Erica]: I don't know, I'll take a stab at it, it is hot.  Some of the groups like Mighty Writers in Philadelphia.  Mighty Writers, it's a group in Philadelphia.  It's a group that is teaching kids to write and sort of doing work shops with kids about writing.  And like, in some ways, I feel like some of those sorts of things are so much more of a tool for social change than something like mural arts, which just happens to have the word art attached to it.  It's probably doing less than what groups like, you know, their main focus is (inaudible 1:04:00.2) yeah, that's it.  Like, their main focus is doing like interesting writing projects with kids and specifically kids that don't necessarily have the opportunity to work in those ways.  I mean, that don't have the access to it.  So it's interesting to think about that as opposed to things that like frame themselves as a tool for social change.  Like something like the programs we have in Philadelphia.  I don't like to say the name.

(Inaudible question from group member 1:04:47.8)

[Scott]: Uh huh. Yeah.  Yeah, we were just talking about Mighty Writers.  Interesting, yeah.  And Erica was just...mmm hmmm.

(Inaudible question from group member 1:05:15.3)

[Scott]: Yeah, exactly.  If somebody does something good for a small community it's not to say that that's not a good idea or that that kind of thing shouldn't happen.  It actually SHOULD be happening all the time.  And part of the argument for arts potentially being counterproductive on the larger scale is that, well, anyway this is not to say that people that are just like basically pouring their blood, sweat and tears into helping a small community are doing something good or useful or helpful to certain people.   But potentially that community arts practices might be inadvertently using their symbolic value, their symbolic value as art, to get local governments and federal governments off the hook.  This is especially true in the UK and it's become a cliché for counsel funded projects or ones that "help a community".  But what they really do, it's like, when you total up the money and support and the attention that gets poured into those projects, it's tiny compared to actually what should be happening nationally.  You know?  And it really shouldn't be kind of picked up by the art per say.  I'm not saying that art shouldn't be doing this.  Obviously that would be pretty ridiculous, especially with many of the examples that we're looking at.  But, that it's a problem.  It's a challenge because what often leads art practice, arguably anyway, are doing is saying "hey, look at us.  Not just us as the artists, but us as a people, as a local government, as a state or as a nation.  Hey look, we are actually doing these wonderful projects.  Look at all these amazing...."  It's like a PR campaign basically.  But one where there is such a small budge allocated to it compared to what actually should be doing.  We're talking about educating people or helping to raise the value of a neighborhood or whatever.  You don't just give a thousand dollars to like some hungry artists who are perfectly happy to work almost for free most of the time just to beautify the side of a building. I mean, it's not that it isn't helpful or can he helpful, but part of this argument anyway is that not only is it not enough, but we are actually helping to say that "oh, it actually is enough" which could be counterproductive.

[Male Group Member]: Scott, I couldn't agree more completely with that concept.  It's something I've been struggling with and I don't want to derail anything in reference to boycott BP and all the things that we're going through to reference the oil situation in the gulf.  Anything that I see that is like a small feel good protest seems to me, to be kind of counter-productive to the huge problem that we have with our lifestyle.  So, I agree with you completely when we talk about in those small little art projects.  I think a lot of the times; it makes us feel better about a situation that really, really we can't even begin to address on such a small scale.  Like there's much more we need to do, and if we make a little art project about it, we're really making people feel better about. Rather than bringing attention to something we're making people feel better about something.  But they really should feel bad about.

[Erica]: Right, right.  Just like when the casino got a slap on the wrist for putting art up in the casino.  They actually don't even necessarily want to do that.  The casinos that are being built in Philadelphia, they have a requirement to put art in the casino.  As if that's like a way out of the bigger problem.

[Female Group Member]: My problem is that if you're not in there and you to go into and fit into a certain A or B categories of these kinds of issues, that you could be educating these people with these issues.  But unless you're like in one of those small little micro categories or something, your voice isn't going to get heard about it.

[Asheesh]: So saying that art isn't, like, the right place for this.  Part of that, sort of like, funding art isn't the right place for a community improvement project seems to be the short version of what we're saying.  Like maybe, I'm not quite sure how to break that apart.  Is the problem that, um, is the problem that we shouldn't be funding this art?  We should just tell people to do it and put up a big poster saying "Do nice things for the community" without giving them money.  Would that be better?

(Inaudible comment from group 1:10:14.0)

Sure, yeah.  So, my question is, it sounds like what you said is that funding art is a weird way to make communities better.  And so part of the reason it's weird is that you're giving artists money for things they might have done anyway is one of the things you said.  And another reason is that it's suggests that with whatever small constant fixed amount of money you're allocating to that somehow is enough.  And even though more is needed, some action is interpretated as enough action.  SO, um, what would be better?  Would it be better to have giant posters everywhere saying "Do nice things?"  Like, I'm...

[Scott]: Would it be better to have posters? I missed that last part.

[Male Group Member]: Do nice things for the people in the community.

[Scott]: Oh, do nice things?  Yeah.

(Inaudible comment from group 1:11:10.2)


[Scott]: Yeah.  Exactly right. Yeah. That definitely sounds....

[Asheesh]: (inaudible 1:11:14.2)

[Scott]: Yeah, that definitely sounds like a lot of our projects as well for sure.  Um, yeah, I mean I think you're saying something that reflects what Erica is saying too. Okay.  So Erica, just to repeat what Erica said just so that we have more contacts too.  She's saying how you know you're not addressing a larger situation by influencing children who are participating in art on some kind which prompts their self esteem to rise and can influence their lives to move in a direction it might not otherwise have gone.  I know it sounds naive, but I've witnessed it personally so I know that it does, in fact, happen.  For sure.  Yeah.  I mean, I'm not going to pretend to address this question fully or give like the answer to it or anything.  But, what we're doing is raising an argument not just for as an exercise but because there's other sides to it too.  Yeah totally.  You know, why wouldn't we all be doing this.  It's just hard to do (inaudible 1:12:23.1).  And I think that our particular problem, you know, that I may have, I guess, with I think I'm sort of siding with that other argument because well... It's sort of like not using plastic bags at a grocery store, you know?   I mean, yeah, it does do something.  If nobody uses them, they'll stop being made.  But often the proportion of that, basically it should be spoken in the same breath is that it's not nearly enough.  It's like a drop in the ocean.  Ultimately compared to what needs to be done environmentally, you know?   And I think that it's, I'm just giving a kind of parallel that I think especially people here in the United States, but also elsewhere, need to be concerned about how these kinds of things impact our guilt relief.  I'm not saying that we should, in fact, just feel more guilty.  But, it's a cycle of uselessness.  I'm not being an (inaudible 1:13:44.5) and saying that if you do one small thing for someone that it doesn't impact the world.  It does.  But it also doesn't mean that is enough and it definitely doesn't mean that we should be directly or even indirectly implying that it is plenty.  And I think that is what happens with our projects is that art is SO good at persuasion.  Art is good at persuading people.  That's why, I mean, what's more powerful and persuasive than a film almost?  Or why historically during war have bands played sort of thriving heart thumping music?  You know, it gets people going.  Art does things.  I mean, I'm pointing to some of the more, I guess, things that aren't really considered "high art" often.  But, they are.  I mean films and what's been more influential than often certain novels?

[Female Group Member]: (inaudable1:14:49.7)

[Scott]: Well, almost.  I guess my point ultimately is that art is highly persuasive so we should be very careful with what we do with it.  Um, and if we do good things in the world, so called good things, then we might just want to also be cautious that what we're... I mean I'm not trying to add a moral lesson here.  I'm really just presenting an argument that already exists.  This is not from me specifically.  It's just one that I'm kind of siding with at the moment as it's playing out.   We're not only doing this anonymous good thing, you know, we are saying, I mean, there is an enormous amount of marketing that goes with this as well.  And we may just want to consider what else it is we're doing.  Um, and consider where those efforts are going and how we might modify them because we do have something to say about how things get presented and what it is that we do.

I don't know Erica, if that kind of addresses or what you were thinking about.

[Male Group Member]: At the same time, I think that you have to recognize that the entire effect of all the artworlds we're talking about and the artworlds that we don't want to talk about have a miniscule effect compared to the latest Pixar film.  I mean, really, we really don't have that much influence compared to the machines that are out there who are not artists

[Female Group Member]: Yeah, I was thinking in particular, certain characters.  I don't know if anybody knows anything about the wolves and that they're off the endangered species list and they're in trouble.  And I was thinking about a particular character, a very famous one.  And I had thought about going in there.  I was doing a show with this character that had involved some bit about this character.  I was particularly thinking about going and calling up the wolf people and asking them to send in leaflets or some kind of petition to tie into for when I was going to do some songs about that character.  Because, I did that particularly because I just got frustrated with the feeling of being helpless about this.

(Inaudible Group Chatter 1:17:16.5 - 1:17:41.8)

[Female Group Member]: I think that's a good point about how many people art reaches compared to like how many people other things reach.  I was in the suburbs not long ago and those huge stores that have so many products and there's so many people that live out in the suburbs, and I was just thinking about that and the way that it feels as though if we're going to really think about audience and people that we're reaching, that like things like this should take place everywhere.  And maybe like in the Wal-Mart or something.  Scott, maybe we should bring Plausible Artworlds to the Wal-Mart.


(Group Chatter 1:18:16.9 - 1:18:44.0)

[Scott]: Absolutely!  Yeah, Jessica.  Would you and Adam mind talking just a little bit about that?  About Chattanooga?

[Jessica]: Yeah.  Well, the students that we had enrolled in the course that was sort of organized around Plausible Artworlds ended up sort of learning their way through.  It was really positive and they sort of experienced art education in a different form than they had.  They were exposed to all these different models and they just sort of started to get that there's other ways that they could sort of work as artists or work together.  So that was super great.  But what we had initially done is invite the whole community, including our colleagues at the university, and we were kind of met with a lot of blank stares and resistance.  Almost like, I don't know.  It was very strange and we haven't been away from it long enough to sort of really evaluate what happened.  But, um, there was sort of a lack of response and we don't know.  I don't know.   I don't know if we know exactly what it means yet.  But the idea of initiating something like this, in someplace like a Wal-Mart, is awesome but I think that it would have to sort of happen in a way that was a natural fit for the place rather than something real intellectual or something that was dislocated behavior from what people are accumated to at Wal-Mart.  If that makes sense

[Adam]: This was in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to answer the question.  I think the most vital in approaching a small situation is in relation to (inaudible 1:20:27.6) the indignity to speak to others.  And what worked for the students was not us coming and telling them about all these artworlds, although they were interested in that.  What really worked was having them look at their own communities and some of the communities. One girl was from a really, really small town in, what was it...Mississippi?

[Jessica]: Alabama

[Adam]: Alabama, where they dismantled nuclear weapons at some point in their histories.

[Scott]: Hey Adam, sorry to interrupt you.  I just wanted to get them back on the call again, because some of the people that were asking me that question just got dropped.

[Jessica]: Okay.

(Group Chatter 1:21:05.4 - 1:21:22.6)

[Scott]: Hey guys, welcome back!  Yeah, Adam, if you don't mind just kind of picking back up on that.

[Adam]: Yeah, I don't want to go on and on.  But I think what really worked was actually asking these small town students, who probably chose graphic design more because that's the only way they could combine art and making money because they were really interested in graphic design.  I think a lot of them were interested in art and they were interested in how art can have an effect.  You know, once we started asking them about their lives and their communities and these people that they interact with everyday, that's where it really took off.  So it wasn't like we were really bringing the (inaudible 1:21:55.4) of all these artworlds, it was really what worked for them as we asked them about their own lives.  Just the same as any other community where you ask people to really begin to look at their own lives and you don't give them any sort of framework.  You actually let them create a framework by looking at the communities they intercept how is that art.

[Jessica]: Yeah, there's a direct parallel when you're asking students to make any sort of work to sort of draw from their own.  So what started to happen was that they kind of got these Plausible Artworlds intellectually, but they weren't really connecting with it until they started doing projects that were based on their own specific relationships to their own specific community and the questions that would sort of drive their own work coming from that place.  Adam just walked away.

Are the (inaudible 1:22:43.3) arts people on the call right now?

[Scott]: Um, yeah.  A bunch of them.

[Jessica]: Okay.

[Scott]: A bunch of people from that class are.  Not all of them.

[Female Group Member]: Yeah, I couldn't agree more.  I think it's sort of the difference between inserting one's self in one's place and thinking that you have something to offer in the sense that you're teaching.  Or which the opposite would be like going in and saying, and again I totally couldn't agree more, like being there, sort of listening, understanding and then like taking back.  And I feel like that's when these sort of social engaged projects really seem to work.  

[Jessica]: Yeah.

[Scott]: Yeah, it starts to sound kind of like political rederict when I say what I want to say, which is that... Well, you know, Bruce Nellman did this piece, this kind of like neon art piece that made me think.  Its part of what he thinks art should do.  And, uh, it's not just social intervention or people that are involved in art as social practice or people that are even interested specifically in merging art and politics overtly who think that art should shatter perceptions or help to change the way that we perceive or think about the world.  But as soon as you bring it into that realm, it definitely takes on a certain tone.  But, just for arguments sake, to be a devil's advocate, in a sense I'm definitely not back peddling on this one.  I do think it's an interesting criticism and argument to make because there is no way for you to criticize community oriented art without sounding like a total (expletive 1:25:06.9) (laughing).  You know?  It's not that awesome that underprivileged youth are being taught to read or it's not that rad that an area that is covered in trash suddenly becomes beautified.  It's definitely not what's being said.  It's that if the message that's being sent predominately is that this is sort of the best you can hope for.  Or this is good enough.  Then, it's actually not changing perceptions.  This is what we expect.  It's like turning on the Jerry Lewis, well, those aren't really happening anymore.  It's like turning on the telethons.  It's a great thing to happen sure, but its' definitely not unexpected.  America has a long history of charity and one way of, there are some writer's that that argue that capitalism is dependent on charity.  From the early days, the idea is that capitalism in its current form can only really work if the people who are landowners, the people who have some say, act responsibly with their wealth.  And part of the way you prove that is through kind of a moral thermometer.  A scale or whatever.  You do good by giving out to people who are "needy".

(Inaudible Group Comment 1:26:39.2)

[Scott]: Yeah, yeah.  Right! Right!  You get tax deductions.  And so this is part of, it's built into the very foundations of our social structures as we know them anyway.  And by we, I guess I'm assuming that almost everyone on calls is in the Western World, and if they're not then they're definitely effected by if they're not living in a capitalist system.  Here in the States, that's been part of our history, is charity.  And so one argument is that it that we have to convince ourselves, we have to advertise it unduly.  We have to make, it's kind of like the classic argument of a suburban dad taking out the trash and making a huge deal of it.  Like he just cleaned up the house all week or something.  This, this (laughing) what am I trying to say?  You know, it's kind of like, we get some spare change to some homeless people and we feel better about the whole situation.  So basically, taking it back to art's role in changing perceptions is that if we're ultimately no matter what it is we're doing, no matter how good it is for someone, if we're not changing perceptions then are we really fulfilling our role as artists?

[Female Group Member]: I think that's a good point, especially in comparison to the homeless people because really, you giving homeless people money is socially responsible but you're not supposed to do that in the sense that it perpetuates the problem.  And in some ways, giving small amounts of money to artists is kind of like a really good parallel in that way.  It's like keeping someone in that same position.  You're keeping the homeless person in the same position.  Keeping the artist in the same position. Because really, there's not too much, with the exception of like stars, there's not too much movement up or down.

[Female Group Member]: I was going to say, if they were going to do things like give money to charity and stuff like that, first off there are a lot of people I know of that don't like Jerry Lewis for that.  Don't like that particular bit.  And there's also like, to cure Muscular Dystrophy or Cancer or something.  Why are we the ones doing it?  Why isn't the government doing this?

[Asheesh]: The only difference between the government and us is compulsion, right?  Is there?

[Female Group Member]: I, it might be, yeah.  I don't know.

[Male Group Member]: I'm really happy to hear that we're at a state now where people can say "we" and "the government" and we're so alienated that we don't begin to think that we are the government.  We really are not.  I mean, the answer traditionally would be that we ARE the government, but we all know that's not true.  I'm really happy to hear that no one buys into that whole notion anymore.

[Scott]: I mean whatever position you take on it.  Yeah.  I'm actually hesitant to take a position on... Well, let's just say that this particular project doesn't take any position on how socialized any particular government should or shouldn't be.  But, it definitely poses questions of when anything that we do, we claim to be doing something.  You know, we should expect to be called on that.  We should expect to be, well, at least to be questioned on that.  Why not?  Especially when part of what the question is, regardless of where you stand, is about what the good life is and who has access to what.  And ultimately, I think that what we're interested in with artworlds is that we're interested who they serve and what we're capable of imagining in their place.  I think that's why were extremely interested in different kinds of structures.  Because, okay, it is a small slice of life I guess.  What is an artworld or what is a creative practice.  Creative life is kind of a big part of our lives too (laughing).  Its impacts might not be as great as some fields, it's not insignificant.  So, what we do and how we do does matter.  So why wouldn't we want to be involved in a conversation about how these worlds get set up?

But hey, we have...

(Inaudible Group Comment 1:31:58.6)

Yeah, I guess everyone on this call, on some level, wants to be involved.  Maybe.  So, we have one minute left and we always try to stick to our time.  Did anyone have any burning kind of questions or things that they wanted to add for next time?  Does anyone have any good closing music?


(Group Chatter 1:32:30.8 - 1:32:38.7)

[Scott]: Yeah, we usually try to have some good closing music (laughing).  No? How about...

(Group Chatter)

[Automated voice saying 7:00)

[Scott]: Thank you very much.  That was awesome.  Alright everyone, have a great time.  We'll see you next week.

(Closing Music & Group Chatter)

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