I came across a fascinating art project taking place in Windsor, Ontario called the Broken City Lab, an artist collective’s response to the economically and socially plundered remains of yet another post-industrial North American city.
Broken City Lab describes what they do as a mix of social practice, performance, and activism. From the website: “The lab attempts to generate a new dialogue surrounding public participation and community engagement in the creative process, with a focus on the city as both a research site and workspace”. Their goal? To find new and creative solutions to Windsor’s economic and social miasma now that the industrial party has moved on.
Their projects are often technology based, which they use to bring in wider communities of participation. For example, the Talking to Walls intervention projected short fill-in-the-blank questionnaires and statements into public spaces that addressed issues of public and private concern — statements like:
Tear down all the _________ but leave up all the ____________.
Train tracks that dissect the downtown are _______________.
Street art is an indication of ________________.
Abandonment does not mean ________________.
Vacant storefronts are good for _________________.
The 100 Ways to Save a City project similarly used projection technology, but this time to make bold suggestions in prominent places: Run for city council in 2010; Create a coalition to stop this city from dying; Plant gardens everywhere; Organize a car pool; Buy local; Organize a soccer league; etc.
The Save Our City: Places of Apology / Places of Hope project, brought local residents together through public meetings to identify “sites deemed to be worthy of apology—these could include failed strip malls, roads without sidewalks, or former auto factories—along with the numerous sites that give community participants hope for the city”. Once identified, the group organized walking tours with stops and brief oral histories for the sites chosen.
“Social practice” is increasingly the term used by artists who are engaging with their creative work in social change and public policy kinds of conversations with audiences and publics. To my mind, this is a fresh and what looks to be innovative way to tap into the imaginative resources that are available in every community to find solutions to local challenges.