Pinatas Today, Politics Tomorrow

Maybe there is something in the water in Texas.

In July I wrote about an artist who created a fake campaign promoting the restoration of El Paso’s trolley system as a thesis project. That campaign garnered so much enthusiasm, the trolley system actually ended up being restored. The artist parlayed that success into a successful campaign for a seat on El Paso’s city council.

Now over in Dallas, an artist who started using pinata houses to draw attention to the way gentrification was displacing the Latino community has declared his intent to run for Dallas city council.

According to another article in the Dallas Morning News containing more detail, as part of the project the artist, Giovanni Valderas, leaves the back of the pinatas open and has placed postcards with the same sad house motif bearing the message, “All I want for Christmas is affordable housing,” that people can mail to the mayor. (Though he said he also leaves the back open so people can see there is no reason to break it open for candy.)

Valderas, thinks more artists should become involved in politics.

…since placing the houses and doing a few other artistic projects around the issue, his neighbors began asking him what’s next.

“I wish more artists ran for office, because they are often the most creative problem-solvers,” Valderas told the Dallas Morning News. “We know how to run a shoestring budget. Through art, we already know how to engage and motivate people. This city could benefit from more creative people running. We can’t leave it up to developers and business people who are all about the money aspect of things. Imagine how much a community could change with an artist at the helm. There would be some crazy ideas, but it would be pretty fantastic.”

Americans For The Arts Unleashes A Pinwheel of Arts Power!!

Americans for the Arts just rolled out their Social Impact of the Arts pinwheel this week. Instructions and ideas about how to use it may be found in a blog post and/or video made by Clay Lord, Vice President of Local Arts Advancement.

As you know, I apply a pretty critical eye to anything that might make prescriptive claims regarding the ability of the arts to solve all sorts of problems.  As always, I am concerned about people using data like property values increasing 20% due to the presence of a cultural organization and a correlation between taking arts classes for four years scoring 100 points higher on SATs as a primary measure of value of the arts.

I will say that it is clear A LOT of effort went into assembling the data and putting these materials together. It can provide a valuable resource when advocating for the arts and finding practices to emulate.  Between the amount of data points and ease of use, my pinwheel of arts power moniker is pretty deserved.

The topics covered are much wider than the economic and educational benefits we often see cited in relation to the arts. There are sections on diplomacy, innovation, faith, infrastructure, health and wellness, social justice and yes, culture, economics and education. Each of the 26 “slices” of the pinwheel brings up a “Learn More” button in the center that allows you to download a printable PDF specific to the topic with footnoted sources that you can bring to meetings with policy makers to show them what is backed by research.

Arrows on either side of the center hub will take you to examples of practice, reading lists and organizations associated with the topic. According to the video presentation Lord made, they were still populating that content.  Since that video was made at the conference back in June, they have likely added a lot more content since then.  I haven’t checked every slice of the pinwheel, but haven’t been able to find an area that lacks any of those three categories.

The downloadable PDFs have reading lists, examples of practice and organizations included, but the respective categories accessed via the pinwheel hub provide more direct access to the information in each section.

My hope is that the easy availability of data and examples of impacts in a wide range of applications will enable people to advocate for the arts cross a broader spectrum of rationale. Likewise, I hope people find it easy to draw inspiration from the successes organizations have had making artistic and cultural practice part of their effort to create connections and impacts in various endeavors.

More Playing In The Streets

Yesterday BikeWalk Macon sponsored an Open Streets event in town.  Open Streets is a program that started about 30 years ago in Columbia. It closes streets down and turns it over the use of the community. (There is also a Play Street program I wrote about that started in London that appears to have a similar aim.) If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know this is the type of thing I am definitely into checking out.

Fortunately for me, one of the streets they chose to shutdown was right in front of my building so I didn’t have to go far.  There were a lot of activities set up along the streets that were closed down – corn hole games, yoga classes, line dancing, skateboard obstacles, sidewalk chalk, etc.

As you might imagine, one of the biggest activities enabled by shutting down the streets was bike riding. I wasn’t sure but it appeared the local bike repair shop or someone might have brought down loaner bikes for people who didn’t have one because there was a big collection around their tent.

As I rode around, I was amazed by just how large a swath of street they ended up closing down. There was a significant section of a major northeast-southwest road that was shut down. Just when I thought I was reaching the limit, I realized I was only approaching a soft closure where cars were allowed to cross through an intersection.

Having such a long distance without vehicular traffic  was a great opportunity to get some exercise, but I almost felt like too much was closed down. As many activities and tent as there were, it couldn’t fill all the available space. As the only one ranging that far out, I felt somewhat guilty blocks upon blocks of street were being shut down for my own use.

After I got tired of riding around, I grabbed a chair from my apartment and just sat and watched people move by. The formality of creating an occasion to use a space seemed to provide an opportunity for people to get out an meet their neighbors in ways that wandering or riding your bikes downtown on a Sunday afternoon wouldn’t normally afford.

The organizers might have worked out something with the local transit company to help people who lived outside the area come downtown to play because I saw people loading their bikes on a city bus that didn’t seem to be immediately departing on a set route.

One thing I was most interested in checking out was the inclusion of Pokemon GO augmented reality in the Open Streets experience. The Knight Foundation has formed a relationship with Pokemon Go developer Niantic and partnered on a fellowship program. (Disclosure: My organization receives funding from both The Knight Foundation and Community Foundation of Central Georgia, both of which provided funding for the Open Streets event.)

After listening to what they were telling people waiting on line at the tent and speaking with the Macon fellow for 7-8 minutes about what they were trying to achieve, I was a little disappointed because it just seemed like they had set up an enhanced Pokemon GO experience where there would be more Pokemon to hunt than usual. I thought they might be doing some more along the lines of the projects in the Knight Prototype Fund where they would experimenting with new ways to use augmented reality.

But then I saw this tweet this morning that said they were using augmented reality as part of a scavenger hunt to help people become more aware of historic locations and public art.

This is the sort of application of the technology I had envisioned might be happening. I don’t know if there was some sort of miscommunication between myself and the fellow where he assumed I knew the scavenger hunt was highlighting history and art and I assumed it was about finding the Pokemon on the posters they were handing out. Had I known it was the former, I would have accepted his offer to join the hunt so I could investigate the experience.

I may have the opportunity to speak with the local Knight Foundation officer in a week or so and hope to ask her for some clarification about what people were being lead to do.

If you are interested in bringing the Open Streets program to your community, you can learn more about it on the project website where they have toolkits to help you get started.

Feeling Sliced and Stretched Trying To Meet Evaluative Measures? There Is Good Reason

Last week I linked to the unabridged version of Carter Gillies’ article for the Arts Professional (UK). The shorter print version has since appeared on their site.

In his response in the comments section of the Arts Professional article, Carter employs some evocative imagery to support his contention that just because you can measure something doesn’t mean the metric tells you anything of value.

If you have been having a difficult time wrapping your head around the arguments I have been laying out about how arts and creativity are valued, Carter’s illustration of the idea might help toward better understanding.

There is an ancient Greek Myth that shows the dangers of confusing our measures with something subject to measurement. In it Procrustes guarantees that the visitors to his inn would fit their beds perfectly…. But Procrustes turns the situation on its head and instead measures the fit by how well the people are measured *by* the bed. In other words, the people are stretched out if they are too small or chopped down if they are too long. Gruesome!

…Do we strap the arts into a framework that satisfies specifically non-artistic values, force a conformity that exists only in conformity obsessed minds? Do we sacrifice all that art can be merely to satisfy a diminished version that is neat and tidy, but itself merely a butchered example of what art does and what it should aim for?

If Arts Council England wants to impose a quality metric for the arts, they have a bureaucratic right to do so. Unfortunately. What they do not have is a right to speak for what things count as quality in the arts, or by extension what the arts themselves are or should be. If they want to take on the role of Procrustes let them be honest about it. But don’t let them tell you that what they are imposing is really what counts as the arts…

Now before you start mumbling indignantly as you recognize how government funders, foundations, etc are applying irrelevant measures in an attempt to define the value of art, recall that we all ultimately end up creating personal definitions and measures of what is and is not worthwhile art. It is just that most of us don’t wield the money and influence that broadly shapes policy and practice for other arts and cultural organizations

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