The Arts and Community
“The Arts” as an all encasing subtitle in relation to the Community is the topic for rhetoric, emphasising the benefits of integrating oneself into a body of people with a view to explore freely. Expectation of information can be used to emphasise a point but the credibility of the final piece has an element of contrived intent; research is the main element to all work. This poses a challenge to the archetypal Artist/Designer functioning as a brand, highlighting issues of integrity when in collaboration with a community on any scale, but also raises the question of the benefits of an association with a successful individual. Anonymous work with regards to this issue works to a clearly honest predicate, but lacks the publicity of being tied to a brand. On top of this, there is also the manner that government functions as part of the community, and mires the topic with problems as to the purpose of arts funding.
Working as an Artist or Designer with the community produces a problem with,
“Who is serving who”?
In many cases pieces that can be shown as the work of a singular artist carry the undertones of being for the benefit of the artist. Take for instance Benjamin Verdonck.1 Pascal Gielen describes a work called “Kalender/Wit”, explaining a conflict between Verdonck and an immigrant (integral to the work) about the childlike way Verdonck had highlighted the problem. The issue with his being that it is shown to touch upon in issue in an indirect way; the work is only used to highlight the problem and uses it to serve itself. Direct action would be to create a piece that acts directly in solving the problem, therefore becoming a design piece. If this marks a clear divide between artistic and design intent, we can focus solely on design solutions.
The difference if the issue was tackled from a design perspective is that one must participate in solving the problem, but even with this added integrity the same problem remains. One simply must look at the duration that the design projects lasted before the designer moves on to another work or the project is shut down to gauge the intent behind the piece.
(There is an understandable issue with this criticism of designers that lies in the border between one acting as a designer or social worker, and economic responsibility on the part of the designer is a justifiable reason for autocracy over one’s work)
Projects produced by university departments in particular, where the cohort is formed of those without the cache of a recognisable name, seem to take on the identity of a project that is produced for the benefit of a community to a far greater extent. Institutes such as the Institute of Design at Stanford or The University of Stuttgart seem to produce progressive work credited to the bodies themselves. The ICD Aggregate Pavilion2. was the first self supporting granular building manufactured by a fully robotic process, and a group of four Stanford students redesigned a nasal respiratory device through investigation into child death rates in Bangladesh.3 In diluting the unconscious effect of branding themselves idividually, the work takes on the qualities of product design, and perhaps avoids the problems with the quality and complexity of the more artistic ways of engaging with a community.
The previous views of The Arts and Community separate the two areas from one another, but it is possible that artists can create both public and self-interested good when the power of the artistic community becomes so strong it overruns an area. Think of areas of London associated with liberal culture, and then analyse the interests of those who frequent the area. Brick Lane for instance is home to a variety of people (singular) who run and attract individuals based on their own success, ‘independent’ shop owners for instance. This then serves to create a community of anonymous people bound by their proximity to one another, with a strong enough identity to attract more interest and a continuous cycle of similar development. This attraction is based in commercial gain, not philanthropic and therapeutic means, but one could argue that the ‘stakeholders’ in the area have created a macrocosm that served as the means of regeneration.
The other variable is the effect of government or a government department, either through inactivity, activity through investment in ‘brands’, or investment with indifference to the finalised idea. Inactivity through lack of arts and cultural funding seems most likely to produce a community acting in revolt to general injustice and lack of liberal order, with topics of interest developed by groups i.e. the East Village, NY in the late 70’s/early 80’s or the Situationists in the mid 60’s. Eluding to the previous note on the boundaries between design and social work, it is interesting to point out that by forming a community the Situationists sacrificed their artistic intent and became politicians and social activists, engaging with problems as politicians. The fact that their ‘works of art’ gained context through their actions in investigating and reacting to authoritarianism and capitalism, immediately creates design material. Perhaps this is the boundary to be crossed between art and design.
Investment that is given without consideration can be seen in many large-scale metropolitan and commercially developed cities. The New York and London skylines can be contributed to a handful of big name architecture practices, and dissonance between the collection of buildings can be regularly seen in both cities. Rafael Viñoly’s design for 20 Fenchurch Street is a monstrosity that is likely to have come to fruition only through the link to a branded designer, and the “Oculus”, New York’s transit hub designed by Santiago Calatrava is a similar example of dissonance, (although the structure itself is striking) partnered with disproportionate cost at a total of $4 Billion. Calatrava’s personal cut sits at around 2% of the total cost, and his firm’s fees account for just over 10%4, which serves to highlight the will of the government/city department to create/digest/regurgitate funds. The development through the investment of a similar amount to smaller scale cultural programmes would be an incredible prospect.
There are examples of government investment in brands that eschew success with regards to capital gain, for instance the design community that functions in Rotterdam. From personal experience, it seems that a positive stance is taken on allowing designers to have control over small development, with restrictions on adaptations to aged housing being fairly minimal, creating a varying and visually interesting city.4 There also seems to be excitement and encouragement over the building of spaces that allow for designers and brands (for instance, Rem Koolhaas and OMA) to leave a permanent mark on the city, therefore generating interest in the city as creative community in its own right. In an article titled “The Myth of Scandinavian Socialism” 5, the point that benefitting from the creation of wealth by individuals working for themselves is raised as an aspect in arguing against the misrepresentation of the benefits of Socialism, and in fact points to the positives in a well-considered and capitalist controlled moral and ethical society.
“In the Scandinavian countries…, the means of production are primarily owned by private individuals…, and resources are allocated to their respective uses by the market, not government or community planning.”
“While it is true that the Scandinavian countries provide things like a generous social safety net and universal healthcare, an extensive welfare state is not the same thing as socialism.”
It could be said that the mid-point of staunch capitalism and unrestricted socialism serves as the correct conditions for creative communities to flourish morally and commercially. What would be an aesthetic and free approach to development does produce conditions for monoculture to thrive over time, but cities/communities that thrive from self-dependency are likely to be made from a similar group of people. Criticism of monoculture seems to use Northern European culture as the reusable example, but cities and cultures based in these countries fills seven of the top ten countries in quality of life with respect to income quintiles.6 Whilst the effect of arts funding on these statistics could be interpreted in many ways, and effects of other aspects of the countries are unaccounted for, there does seem to be a link between countries one associates with the arts and cultural progression and the statistics for quality of life.
A variety of approaches can be taken to create the correct environment for arts and culture projects to flourish, and it seems that the way government invest in projects shapes the nature of what generates attraction, but the power of the artist/designer/creator has the benefit of autonomy and therefore the ability to raise questions and investigate topics in any scenario with freedom that can only exist free of market orientation. It is this area that the context behind projects that seek to solve problems, working with people outside of the arts community, hold much more credibility than projects based on required conformity.
1 -Gielen, P. (2011) “Mapping Community Art”. In; De Bruyne, P and Gielen. “Community Art, The Politics of Trespassing”. –
2-University of Stuttgart (2015) ICD Aggregate Pavilion https://www.dezeen.com/2015/10/18/icd-aggregate-pavilion-2015-stacked-spiky-particles-robot-university-of-stuttgart-computational-design-germany/#disqus_thread.
3 –Institute of Design, Stanford (2016) AdaptAir https://www.fastcodesign.com/1670394/stanford-students-invent-a-respirator-mask-to-save-babies
4 – Finn, P (2016) “The Path to $4Billion”. http://architizer.com/blog/santiago-calatrava-path-terminal-opens/
5 –MVRDV, “Didden Village”, https://www.mvrdv.nl/projects/didden
6 –Iacono, C. (2016) “The Myth of Scandinavian Socialism” https://fee.org/articles/the-myth-of-scandinavian-socialism/
6 –Eurostat. (2016) “Culture Statistics” Pg 18. http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/3217494/7551543/KS-04-15-737-EN-N.pdf/648072f3-63c4-47d8-905a-6fdc742b8605