Friday, July 25, 2008


AGAPE Mural ©2008 Philadelphia Mural Arts Program/ Michael B. Schwartz

I just finished this mural today. It’s located at the AGAPE African Senior Center 229 N. 63rd St. in Philadelphia and is a Philadelphia Mural Arts Program project.

The mural tells the story of a Liberian immigrant’s experience of coming to Philadelphia. From the mango tree filled streets of her hometown, to a pensive ride on the airplane, to arrival in Philadelphia. She experiences the cold hard realities of life in Philadelphia before finding her peace in the city. This project included several community input sessions where participants shared ideas through drawings and brainstorm sessions, food and story telling.


Monday, July 7, 2008

National Artists Corp, Participatory murals, democracy and development. What the hell ya talking about kid?

This is a time of great transition and possibility. In this election year there is talk of a National Artists Corp and arts education was mentioned in nationally televised debates. Could it be that the movement for cultural democracy may finally have the momentum needed to take a quantum leap? Is this a sign that our collective years of hard work is paying off? Hmmm. Before you answer check out Arts Vote and see where the candidates stand.

If there is to be a National Arts Corp we all can help insure its success. This means that everyone involved in defining, advocating for and designing the program will have to fit a rather large spontaneous circle into a tiny static square.

Exactly what sort of social impact do we seek to have? What skills and histories will be taught? Will we allow for spontaneity and innovation? Will we connect the dots between culture, democracy, war and climate change? Are we talking about starting new programs or funding existing ones? Will rural and suburban communities be fully included? How will we network and dialogue among the programs? How will we insure that the program is authentic and rich? How will we mitigate the questions of community arts aesthetics? How will we insure that our process results in a product that participants are proud of? What training will these young teachers receive? What about all the older un- and underemployed cultural workers?

As our field becomes more institutionalized the contradictions we face are more severe. The positive is that with this institutionalization comes greater opportunity and a broader acceptance of participatory and interactive arts in general. None the less most of us who are working in this field lack job security, fair pay, health care or adequate housing and work space. These are nice problems to be having in one sense, but we have to be even more diligent in navigating the contradictions and black holes that litter the stage upon which we work. We have to do more than just have good intentions and ideas, we must begin to think of ourselves as a movement again. We have to organize to demand our rights, to advance our field and articulate why our work is so critical.

A fantastic resource and one I would encourage everyone to use as an organizing tool is Arts in the Public Interest. The site includes listings of opportunities, discussions, where people are meeting and weekly updates on what is happening in the field.

Also check out Just Seeds - a sizzling hot network of DIY artists and cultural workers. We saw Josh McPhee at the opening of a new show of posters at Space 1026 in Philadelphia. He mentioned that there may be a conference in Pittsburgh some time in early 2009, a possible mecca and time to organize?

As we further untangle the web of Art Corp programs check out Art Corp Seattle founded in 2000 . Also founded in 2000 is an academic consortium called Imagining America .
Then there is ArtCorps out of Beverly, Massachusetts a group that places emerging artists in host communities to facilitate community based cultural development projects.
I have to give props to the Tucson Arts Brigade, a group well ahead of its time that dared cross wild rivers long before funding bridges were built.