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SLOUCHING TOWARD UTOPIA: Two ideas Tacoma missed

Actually making life better through art would be nice

ART WITH PURPOSE: Outdoor art exhibits open things up to the public. Photography by Joe Malik

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I love the Art Bus. I love Third Thursday Artwalk.  I love our museums and galleries. But I also believe we can do more than put art on display for appreciation and gawking through the bottom of a beer or wine glass. Art has power, or it once did, to change communities. I ran across a couple programs recently that may provide some inspiration for those artists interested in taking it to the next level.

Take Access Arts, for example. This program was featured recently in Time Magazine, and brought national attention and praise to the dirtiest little city in the lower 48, Detroit. Access Arts invited 19 local artists to create nearly two-dozen installations. Those installations were not promised gallery space. They didn't get to be in a museum. Rather, they were integrated into the natural environment of a little corner of Detroit called Belle Isle. The exhibit included some live music and DJs.

And it sounds completely awesome.

The organization behind this project describes it as a chance "to incubate support for art in public spaces by operating through a mission of inclusion."

A.K.A.: Not in the standard, unintentionally exclusive venues like galleries and museums, which half the population usually wouldn't set foot in. 

"The setting of the show removes some of the boundaries that are typically applied to the forms of art presented," says Access Co-Director Sicily McRaven in Time. "Usually installation and performance art take place in somewhat secluded academic or gallery oriented venues. Having the show in such an open public space makes it so that anyone can see or show work."

The program also reached out to youth shelter Wolverine Human Services to host bi-weekly workshops with its residents.

Meanwhile, in East Baltimore, a measly $1.3 million helped create MICA PLACE, which consists of an art gallery, computer lab, studios, seminar space, community meeting rooms and apartments for 26 graduate students. It took 10 years for the Maryland Institute College of Art to create the program that represents a new kind of arts education, combining art with community development. As part of their academic work, students pursue partnerships and collaborations with residents, organizations, educational institutions and government agencies to develop creative projects that address community. Coursework may include development and leadership of programming, such as workshops for youth, community members and organizations that encourage empowerment and creative expression; community meetings and other interactions supporting community dialogue; exhibitions, performances, poetry readings and music recitals featuring neighborhood residents; documentation of oral histories in print, sound and video; and social design projects that support urban revitalization, public health enhancement and other community-based initiatives.

In a public announcement, Maryland Institute College of Art President Fred Lazarus IV says he hopes the program will, "become an international model for collegiate civic engagement-immerse your students in the community, listen and learn from the community, and then create projects that make life measurably better for the citizens that live there and beyond." 

Actually making life better for Tacoma's citizens, and including more of them, sounds pretty appealing, and might be worth considering.

Or we can get wasted and look at stuff.

Joe Malik is a jaded, ornery, "power to the people type" that can't help but comment on all the stupid, awesome, or just plain questionable stuff he sees within the local arts community. Basically, he's kind of an arts-centric asshole - but we like him. The Weekly Volcano doesn't always agree with what he says, but we do enjoy stirring the pot.

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Ariel Zimmer said on Jul. 30, 2010 at 7:42am

I am surprised to hear that the author feels this way - that acess to art is limited, presents barriers and is not woven into the lives of "every day" people. As a recent transplant from =ortland, Oregon, I was blown away at acess to arts. Please check out Tacoma Art Place and Open Art Studios...great place for inexpensive classes. Or free nights at the museum. Or any friday night of the week there are all ages poetry open mics at cafes downtown. Tacoma has multiple dance studios, theaters and art placed in parks throughout the city. I am curious about the youth programming that does exists here already. I know there is a least one dance studio designed for at risk youth and there have been writing workshops in local schools. Please give props where props are due: credit to the good art programs in play already and the hard work that makes it happen. These existing programs are the foundation of future growth. Increased "social justice through the arts" is needed in every city, and will yield amazing results in a city as diverse as Tacoma. I will start with an invitation - join us for free spoken word next saturday at the Den Cafe inside of Urban Exchange at 7 pm. All ages. As accessible as it gets.

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