When working on the public space a key factor that should not be forgotten is that we are not only “placing art on the street” but generating a dialogue with the community around it. Their expectations, fears, “likes and hates”, will play a role on the interpretation and enjoyment of the work of art. In this open context, praise, criticism, questions and fears can draw more attention than the art work in itself, as well as become obstacles that impede its realisation. How could we successfully deal with such a challenging situation?
“Vermittlung—“mediation” in German—signifies a transfer from one party to another, the pragmatic transmission of a message. It also stands for attempts at reconciling parties who disagree on something: nations, for instance, or people in conflict.” Maria Lind in Why Mediate Art?*
Let’s have a look at a practical situation. For the X edition of Aquamediale Festival, which has been working since date with temporary art works and installations, the placement of a permanent piece was in desire of many. A permanent piece adds value to the public space in itself, makes the festival resonate along the year fostering new and wider audiences and what is more, it is well know the value of public art to create attachment to one’s community. But even when the favourable factors have been taken on, there is a certain budget allowed and permissions have been given; there are further steps to be taken to successfully build up a positive relationship with the community where the work of art will be placed.
Indeed when working in the in the public space, we are working with and in the public sphere. It is not rare that questions like “which work of art is it going to be? What if I do not like it? Why this motive and not this other?” come out among the community members. At this crucial point it is important to give answers and hand out all the possible information, yet answering people’s questions has to be part of the process. We shall consider that some of those decisions are on the hand of the curator, artist and promoters. Managing and producing art in the public space it is not (necessarily) the result of a democratic process. Still “people’s opinion” should not be ignored. Challenge for professionals and specialist is to find ways to include the public sphere on the equation. Only then real community attachment will be grounded and social dialogue promoted.
“How?” Seems so far to be the tricky question. In every case we have to look out at the particular situation, and consider specifics facts. Within the Aquamediale festival a strategy to collect questions and give answers was developed. On one side social media (facebook and event website) where used to facilitate all information regarding the project, the grounds, reasons, process and also the sketches of the planned work of art. Thoughts, strategies, content in the shape of links, photos and videos such as related events and artist interviews were used as dissemination and information material. At the same time local media was being informed via press releases and their perspectives and related articles were used again as dissemination material, extending the range potential interested audiences. In this way discussion and dialogue was open before the work of art was actually placed on location.
On the other side a public presentation was organised inviting all citizens of Lübben to take part and share their concerns. Within this context art experts, the local authorities, the festival’s curator and the artist had the chance to explain and share their motivations, also to listen to questions, critics and feedback from the citizens, local media and the cultural scene members. A positive and constructive dialogue took place and although opinions were diverse a sense of mutual trust grow up. Next to all of it, a public poll was created and distributed thought social media and in analogue printed form, always taking care to be as much “inclusive” as resources on hand allowed.
Overall an initial climate of mistrust, questioning and critics turned out to become an opportunity for dialogue and community attachment. As critics were welcomed, listened and argument, light was given to the reasons, motivations and positive factors behind the initiative and with it, “opinions of taste” became more relative. Although some did not “like” the picture in itself, they still welcomed the initiative.
Of course critics did not disappear after the work was publicly presented but this was neither intended, the important fact is that not only an aesthetic debate about the work of art was supported but also a discussion around the function of art, its role in the public space and its function as identity symbol. The mediation opportunity appeared on scene and Aquamediale Festival took it, fostering with it a positive outcome.
01. Use wisely pre-production and production time to implement art mediation strategies that manage expectations and foster high quality experiences.
02. Facilitate and disseminate all available information (about project, artists involved, context and reasons behind the project).
03. Keep dialogue open, listen and accept critics, answer questions and communicate your motivations.
04. Evaluate the convenience to take further actions: design special events or strategies where deeper dialogue can be fostered.
*Why Mediate Art? by Maria-Lind