Art as the process of creation...
CROW developed the following method and observations over the past decade, through trial and error, in the course of numerous community art projects. While the final outcome is important, we see the process as the most important element of these projects. The process of creating the art is where the exchange of ideas, collaboration and accountability happens among participants. An artful process will create an inviting space for everyone to contribute.
At the outset, there are three general issues to consider, inspiration , resources and limitations . These will help shape the project.
1. Inspiration - creative Ideas begin with brainstorming. Have an initial meeting inviting everyone willing to contribute ideas for the project. This process can begin with a small or a large group depending on your access to information networks and meeting space. You may put up flyers, make phone calls, send an email through an email list, etc. A public space like the library or a park may be good spaces to meet. Don't worry about inviting the entire community. It is best to have more than two people to brainstorm, but the organizers should not feel overwhelmed from the start. It is best to stick to something that seems reasonable to pull together quickly. This meeting is to get the project rolling.
2. Resources – list all of your resources. Think about the possible people who can help with various elements of the project. Discuss the funding that is currently available, list possible businesses to approach for donations. Spot possible spaces for the project, identify organizations to help spread the word and bring in participants.
3. Limitations – list the existing limitations as well as the possible limitations that might arise. Consider how these limitations can be addressed.
4. Back to Creative Ideas - discuss how the creative ideas can fit together and decide what may not be practical to do based on limitations.
This will be a back-and-forth process as new inspiration , resources and limitations come up. Keep in mind that, because community art is highly participatory in nature, it is almost impossible to conceptualize the entire project ahead of time. Organizers need to be flexible, problem solvers and able to spot opportunities when they present themselves. It is important that the organizers stay open to the possibility that the project will continue to evolve up until the last finishing touch.
Since the focus of CROW is on the process, the goal is to involve as many participants as possible. People must have a chance to participate on different levels. Some people will only have a few minutes to contribute and others will dedicate days. Participation will range from project organizers to a passerby, who stops to paint a flower.
During the planning meetings, it is helpful to find out who is interested in what aspect of the project. Write down assignments and contact numbers of everyone willing to take on tasks. Distribute meeting notes and have people report on their accomplishments or obstacles in the following meetings to increase accountability and to make sure that the project is moving ahead.
The organizers may not be able to cover all the tasks. Try to fill in the gaps by recruiting people through putting up flyers and/or asking friends/neighbors to fill specific roles in the project. You can also distribute some less glamorous tasks among the core group or pay a small stipend to the neighborhood kids.
Food is always a good way to build a comfortable and inviting environment, so if there are some funds for snacks, the meetings will take on a more festive and fun atmosphere. It could even help to go on a group field trip or watch a movie together in order to foster a feeling of being a team.
Below is a list of possible ways to engage people in participation:
Organizers are the indispensable core group that must keep track of everything that needs to get done. It is helpful to assign specific duties to each member of the core groups (i.e. securing supplies, public outreach, design, location scout, etc.).
Each person does not have to do everything that they are in charge of. They just need to make sure that everything gets done. This might mean tying up loose ends, recruiting people, collaborating, brainstorming, etc. It helps to give organizers some sort of reward or recognition for their hard work. This may be in the form of educational credits or a small stipend.
Unintentional participants . These are observers or passersby who do not plan to participate, but become interested and join the project as it is happening.
Artisans can help based on various skills (i.e. woodworkers, potters, techies, artists, etc.) The core group members may contact specific people and invite them to participate in the project. For example, if a frame needs to be built, the person in charge of supplies and materials might find someone in the community who can do this and ask for their help. People are surprisingly eager to work on an interesting community project.
Keep in mind that certain tasks will require funds. A woodworker may be willing to build the frame, but might ask for funds to buy the wood. Or conversely, a lumber store might be willing to donate the wood, but you may need to pay someone to build the frame. It is always great when more community members pitch in, but having a small grant helps. This is one of the limitations that guides the project.
Local businesses will often contribute supplies (food, tools, materials, etc.) If possible, it is a good idea to provide them with a tax i.d. number (for tax write-off) and to write them a thank you letter after the project is complete. They will be eager to participate again in future projects.
Large corporate businesses will often need advance notice to process the donation request. They might also require a written proposal. Local businesses may be more informal but might have fewer funds available. Though sometimes you will get a cash donation or in-store credit, stores will be most eager to donate mismatched paints, odd colored tiles, scrap lumber, day old pastries and other odds and ends.
Experts (Teachers, Artists, Activists, etc.) can provide valuable mentorship and may be willing to set up regular meeting times with the organizers to discuss ideas and issues that come up. Teachers may want to have their class complete an assignment related to the project.
Institutions may be able to allocate funds and space for the project. In the past, CROW has found it easier to find permanent mural space on the walls of local businesses. City owned spaces can be too difficult to secure because of bureaucratic obstacles. However, universities, schools, libraries and community centers are good sources of small grants and will often agree to portable art projects that don't have to be permanent. Public institutions might also get involved by contributing meeting and storage spaces or in-house resources (such as photocopies, paper, markers, phone, labor).
Media – local papers and radio are especially useful if organizers want to invite the greater local community to participate in the project. Call a local paper/radio station or send out a press release and tell them about your project. Community art projects make good stories and provide great visuals, so reporters are likely to help out. Media participation is valuable not only in informing people about the planned events, but in documenting and telling the story about the project for future inspiration.
There are several considerations with respect to space. It is important to identify resources that are available as soon as possible. The availability of spaces will help guide the design of the project. The unavailability of certain spaces does not mean that the project cannot continue, it means that the project needs to be changed/designed to accommodate the resources that are available.
It is important to consider at least three types of spaces:
i. Where will the public project collaboration take place? If the public will be invited to participate, what is the most public place with a good flow of people (i.e. farmers' market, park, street, parking lot, alley, etc.)? Make sure to have an alternative plan in case of bad weather (rain, wind, snow, etc.) or plan alternative dates for the outdoor events.
ii. Where will materials be stored and where will the core group do preparatory work? These do not need to be the same, but it helps to have materials easily accessible when you meet to do prep work.
iii. Where will the final display of the project outcome be located? Depending on the chosen medium, what will be the appropriate means of displaying and later archiving the finished work? Seeing the work displayed in public contributes to a feeling of ownership and builds a sense of pride and belonging in the neighborhood.
Think about documentation on two levels.
i. Participants record the process for others who want to do this again later, for collective memory and for publicity. This could be in the form of photographs, film, written word, website, blog, etc. Designate this job to at least one person working on the project.
ii. As mentioned above, local media can be involved in documentation. The school newspaper, the local newspaper, local TV/radio station may be invited to do a story on the project. This will create further ways to display the project and make it public, sharing it with a wider community. It can add to participants' feeling that they made their voices heard.
The art of our community projects is the process as much as the outcome. CROW's goals are to contribute to community building, be inspired, be creative and to have a chance to envision and have a hand in shaping our physical environments. The process involves dreaming up ideas, solving problems, taking on responsibilities, being accountable, speaking up, listening and working together. In short, our mission is to help create the kind of communities that we want to live in.
CROW in the Media
Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except the best.
- Henry van Dyke
CROW's mission is to create moments of interaction in public spaces and to use the streets as a place of play and creation. As Guy Debord wrote in the Society of the Spectacle, we are increasingly conditioned to become consumers of the spectacle of commodities. Modern culture is heavily reliant on spectatorship and experts for production of knowledge, goods and art. Our streets are predominantly controlled and produced by the experts. We have rules that closely regulate and zone our behaviors in public spaces. Much artistic expression allowed in the U.S. city streets comes in the form of architecture, advertising or commissioned public art. All require a long resume and years of professional experience.
CROW believes that having an ability to shape our living environment, to create and be creative in our communities and to have the power to tell our own stories is important for a sense of place, belonging and efficacy. We want to make a space in our environment, for art, that has no other purpose than to add color, unpredictability and imagination to the streets. Though we appreciate aesthetically pleasing art and we strive to create works that are pleasing to look at, we do believe that “non-expert” art, such as art made by children or non-professionals, serves as a reminder of the value of creativity in everyday life for everyone. Imperfection in art reminds us that art should not be solely a fetish relegated to the zone of galleries and expertise. Art can be light, free, spontaneous and ephemeral. It is not only the consumption of art but also the process of creation of art that is important to us.
By initiating community art projects and creating moments where ordinary people can come together and add color to their streets, we attempt to interrupt the flow of spectatorship and expert production and to create situations where people have the power to turn their life into art -- altering, embellishing, decorating their alleys, houses, fences and the streets.