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The Parameters of Public Art

April 15, 2013

Randy Kennedy’s recent article in the New York Times “Outside the Citadel, Social Practice Art Is Intended to Nurture” (March 2013) raised some interesting questions regarding Public Art and Social Practice Art.

Surely, as Mr. Kennedy states, in the art form “known primarily as social practice, its practitioners freely blur the lines among object making, performance, political activism, community organizing, environmentalism and investigative journalism, creating a deeply participatory art that often flourishes outside the gallery and museum system.” Many titles have been coined along the way, Community Art, Relational Art, Socially Engaged Art Practice, Dialogical Esthetics, just to name a few. More Art is less interested in ephemeral names and more in the goal of making contemporary art more accessible and socially conscious. This has been our mission from the very start.

Pablo Helguera, who worked with More Art in 2011 on a project titled “El Club de Protesta/The Portest Club”, is quoted in the article: “(T)he shift began happening sometime after 9/11 [spurred by] the question ‘What is the meaning of making art in the world like it is today?’” “El Club de Protesta,” organized in collaboration with the Hudson Guild Community Center, consisted in a series of bilingual (English/Spanish) song-writing workshops open to the public with the purpose of promoting and revisiting the tradition of the Latin American and North American protest song as a historical form of expression often connected to significant social movements. The project gave members of the community a chance to speak out about issues they were passionate about and gave each participant the confidence needed to actually do it on a public platform.

Mr. Kennedy’s article highlights the new-found popularity of such practices and therefore highlights how “(A)rt institutions around the country are grappling with how to bring [social practice] within museum walls and make the case that it can be appreciated along with paintings, sculpture and other more tangible works.” This is where we challenge the premise. We challenge the idea of bringing public art, community art, relational art or socially conscious art practices “within museum walls” because that would defy its very essence. Notwithstanding the importance and centrality of museums for contemporary art, we believe that there should be art forms or art practices that remain free and accessible to all and in the public domain.

Mr. Kennedy notes that “many artists say the motivation is…to make a difference in the world that is more than aesthetic.” We do feel that our projects prove this to be true. In our recent work with Krzysztof Wodiczko, the artist literally gave a voice and a platform to veterans from the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This stunning nighttime public projection in the heart of Union Square, “Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Project”, is indicative of our mission statement: to seize opportunities to enable people from all walks of life to approach and access art. We want everyone — with no admission, coat checks or walls — to have access to the work of artists. We encourage artists to address issues and concerns that are relevant to them and to us all. We will continue to strive for such projects to be offered to the public so that anyone and everyone may encounter thoughtful and engaging art in public spaces such as Union Square Park in Manhattan.

Kristina Van Dyke, foundation director at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, ultimately asks “Could we effect social change through art, plain and simple?” The answer is simple: Yes. It is and continues to be our mission at More Art.