[-empyre-] week 4: social practice and institutions

Corrina Mehiel corrinamehiel at gmail.com
Mon May 30 04:54:27 AEST 2016

Third time could be the charm.  I believe my message went through as an email, but still having difficulties with the archive.  Giving this one more go (apologies for redundancy)  Want to make sure this is available, since there are now some thoughtful responses being generated. 

Here goes:

I thought I’d chime in again before the week is over, since we really only touched on introductions and haven’t addressed the questions brought up by Don’t a few weeks back. 

As Kyle laid out for us to wrap up this month of thinking / discussing social practice projects and artists, and the complicated relationship to institutions.  “This (final) week might serve as an opportunity to reflect on the challenges that (funding) institutions and socially practiced artworks present to one another, and…the opportunities…?  How Don’t Rhine’s comments in week 1 present a critique of the ways in which institutions expropriate value from the participant of socially practiced art (“participation in its value form”).  To the extent that such institutions are themselves implicated in processes of displacement and gentrification, and to the extent to which such institutions are de facto put to service as an extension of the State, such critiques should serious pause all of us who imagine art as a force for social transformation.”

Do we have a choice? For those of us who have been through a lifetime of education within these (partially) publicly funded institutions, we have these threads of the messy history of creativity and ingenuity coopted by corporations and political interests, in a way we are the products of these traditions.  It is no longer possible for me to work in a way that I can pretend I am not participating in the process of displacement and gentrification.  If I have the opportunity to teach within a college or university I am also upholding the traditions of privilege and opportunity whether I like it or not.  I am in no way claiming to celebrate these traditions and abuses, I am only admitting that as participants in these traditions, we are keeping them alive. 

I’ve been thinking more and more about civic engagement and what it means to live in and practice engaged community.  When I was in middle school in central Pennsylvania in the early 1990’s, my older brother was in a civics class in 10th grade.  By the time I became a sophomore, civics had been removed from the curriculum and “replaced” by social studies, which was in essence, a repeat of early American history.  The short lived moment in time that civics was adopted by our educational system (I believe) was a result of the activism around the Vietnam War, and by the 90’s things had again shifted, and the current state of hyper BREAKING NEWS had won, pushing back against civic engagement and journalism.  So where do - especially our youth - find mentors and space for learning strategies to push against these traditions and tendencies? 

I am living outside of Asheville, North Carolina right now, a state that is on everyone’s radar in the midst of an ugly political moment, and a less and less United States… supposedly.  I had the opportunity to take a HOOD HUGGERS tour of Black Asheville last week, and was exposed to a deeply disturbing history of an ignored and repeatedly squeezed out Black community that goes back generations.  The artist who took us on this tour of the real effects of what we all commonly refer to as gentrification, is working with a small community of activists to provide these windows of insight and understanding to people like me, complete outsiders - as well as those who may be willing to listen who have deep roots in Western North Carolina. The web of connections and different projects go between major institutions, grass roots community groups, non-profits, corporate stake holders, developers, you name it.  The human implications of social injustices, whether hidden or out in the open, must be exposed from all possible angles.  If that means compromise with the “enemy” is there a way to measure the gains vs. losses?  What happens to the families that are being displaced across Asheville, as well as every city in this country, which puts property value and the interest of corporate stakeholders above citizens? 

In this moment t of social media, siloed thought, growing paranoia and lack of compromise, I am advocating for the idea of compromise.  When there are algorithms in place that keep all of us happy, pacified and pushing us to forget how to confront ideas that are different than our own, we risk losing the ability to see things from different perspectives, and hold our ideas closer and closer to our hearts, confusing ideas with emotion.  How can we as creative types, “social practitioners,” instigators, work with what he have now, really own it. 

I’ll leave that for someone else to address ))

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