Abbott Square: Using a community-based approach to bring a Museum into the public sphere

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This is the fifth in a Placemaking Profile series in which we will share short conversations we’ve had with urban innovators – from those who are actively building places that foster social inclusion to those who listen, engage, and tell stories from the communities.

For more information about placemaking, please click here.

From our previous conversations with leading placemakers in Canada, Lebanon, the UK, the US, Belgium, and more, it is clear that there is a growing need - and creative energy to support that need - to open up our public spaces both physically and psychologically. With that need comes opportunities to repurpose and reconnect assets - from libraries to greenspaces - to foster places in which we can share visions, resources, and power.

When we talk about building out the civic commons, one important piece of the puzzle are civic institutions like galleries, museums, and archives. How can these places that often take us outside of our immediate context (temporal, geographic, etc.) ground us in order to build a stronger, more connected community? How can the wealth of knowledge and ideas contained within these institutions be brought out into the communities in which they’re located?

We were lucky enough to connect with Nina Simon, museum visionary and Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, just after she was in Toronto to give a keynote at NEXT, the 2017 Canadian Association of Science Centres' annual conference. Read on to find out how the MAH is both sharing out and inviting in to expand traditional museum programming while fostering important conversations about place.

Responses are lightly adapted from our Q&A with Nina.

You state that “the MAH fundamentally has two jobs: we bring art and history out into our community, and we invite our community in”; this is a powerful statement in a world where retreating into private spheres is seen as an acceptable solution. How did this mission statement develop?

Retreating into private spheres is neither ethically acceptable nor financially sustainable. The MAH almost closed in 2011 because it was perceived in our community as closed-off and insular. Our subsequent rebirth and transformative growth was rooted in a community-based approach. We believe we exist for our community, with our community, period.

As we started doing community-based work, we built a strategic framework around it, which we call a theory of change, connecting the activities we do to the impact we seek. The impact we focus on is using art and history to build a stronger, more connected community. Our community doesn’t live solely in our building. Our work shouldn’t, either.

Relatedly, what do you see as next steps to continuing to expand your audience?

We are expanding into Abbott Square to bring the MAH experience out into our immediate downtown community. But we don’t intend to stop there. Strategically, we see growth at the MAH in the next five years as happening beyond the building. We want the museum to be the creative heart of an ever-expanding network of community connections and partnerships. These connections are both ephemeral (pop up museums, collaborative festivals) and permanent (history exhibits in bus stops, public art projects). We are investing on multiple levels to build a more connected community across our region.

The idea of bringing the community into the MAH can be connected to breaking apart the public/private space dichotomy. What have been some of the key actions involved in changing a traditional museum setting to one that is open and interactive?

The first step to being open is being open. Open to possibilities. Open to new ideas and perspectives. Open to the people who walk in your doors. We see creative and cultural assets everywhere in our community, and we think it’s our job to amplify, connect, and empower them. It’s a basic mindshift from scarcity thinking to abundance thinking.

Can you give a few examples of how you are engaging with people who may not normally enter a museum setting?

  1. We bridge people from different cultural and economic backgrounds frequently in our projects. For example, in the spring of 2017 we presented an exhibition called WE WHO WORK, pairing Hung Liu’s gorgeous portraits of ancient Chinese laborers with contemporary tools from locals who are day workers. Most day workers in our community are low-income, Latino, often exploited, often ignored. Bringing them and their labor stories into the exhibition brings them dignity and ties their struggles to those of the historic laborers in the artwork.
  2. We embrace the full spectrum of creative expression in our community. Our biggest annual event, the GLOW festival, is a digital art and fire street festival. It was started when a group of local world-famous fire artists approached the MAH and said, “we never get to show our work here in Santa Cruz County.” Their art may not hang on gallery walls, but it is powerful and worth sharing. We worked hard to showcase their work in a safe, fun, incredible festival experience that has become a signature MAH event.
  3. We make safe space for other groups to use the MAH as their cultural platform. The MAH is home to a writing tutoring center, a puppetry institute, research projects, a racial justice group, Chamber of Commerce meetings, and many, many other endeavors. We want the MAH to be seen as a convening space, and we have worked hard to say yes to as many community groups as possible who can get and bring value here.

In what ways do you measure engagement and impact?

For us, success looks like our audience reflecting the age, income, and ethnic diversity of our county. That’s our basic measuring stick. Beyond that, we measure whether people feel empowered through MAH programs and whether our programs are catalyzing new cultural bridges across divides in our community.

How do we measure these things? We survey people directly with targeted questions, and we also observe and capture stories of impact. For example, on the bridging side, we ask visitors: “Did you have a positive experience with someone from a different cultural background?” And then we also listen for the later stories of deeper bridging: an Oaxacan music group and historical association who team up on an event, a composer and a sculptor who partner on a project, a partner from a marginalized background who tells us she’s made more friends and felt more welcome because of her involvement with the MAH.

One of our thematic areas at Cities for People is strengthening the civic commons (i.e., sharing the planning, management, and use of community assets). Does this framing apply to your work in connecting spaces that were previously viewed as unrelated to one another?

Yes and no. On the one hand, because of the MAH’s impact focus on building a more connected community, we spend a lot of our time sharing / connecting / partnering / co-conspiring. We have literally thousands of local partners. We encourage MAH staff to serve on boards, volunteer for other organizations, and get involved in civic projects. We are delighted to share our knowledge and assets with others… and we learn from them too.

On the other hand, we have a heavy bias for action. We’re not willing to spend years in planning. At the MAH, we’re serious about community participation, but we’re also serious about the fact that that participation has to lead somewhere--to a powerful outcome that all our participants can take pride in. If a particular opportunity appears to be stuck in a multi-year planning loop, we move on.

The MAH seems to pay particular attention to appealing to many age groups - something which art institutions seem to struggle with. What steps have you taken to build all-ages programming into your plans?

We don’t target our programming to specific groups. Instead, we focus on bridging--making the MAH a place you come to interact with people from many different walks of life. That means that we don’t do “young adult” events or “family” events. We do community events, and we design them to appeal to many different constituencies.

For example, we found that only families with small kids would come to an event called “Family Art Day,” but people of all ages--including families with kids--would come to a “Radical Craft Night” featuring hands-on activities, blacksmithing, even a taxidermy demonstration. Bridging different cultural offerings in one space brings together people of many different ages and backgrounds.

How did the Pop-up Museum idea (a temporary exhibit created by whomever comes up with an idea) come into being?

A UW graduate student, Michelle DelCarlo, developed it as part of her master’s thesis in museology. We loved the simple, understandable, scalable format for bringing people together around objects and conversations. We worked with Michelle to adapt her model into a structure that we use in Santa Cruz County and that we share with the world via The MAH’s free Pop Up Museum toolkit has been downloaded over 12,000 times by people in 128 countries.

How did you connect with residents in neighbourhoods away from the MAH to bring the museum experience to their communities?

We’re always looking outward. Where we are interested in a particular community (whether defined by neighborhood, cultural practice, age, etc.), we seek out their events, favored places, and experiences. We are guests in their spaces, learning what they love and value. Then, we reach out, focusing on how we can amplify the incredible work they do.

Can you point to examples of civic institutions that have taken a similar approach to breaking down walls (literally or metaphorically) to integrate and connect their space with the urban fabric surrounding it? I.e., are there any comparable projects that have served as inspiration to you and your team?

Yes - many. Here are just a few...

  • The Laundromat Project in New York City, which puts artists to work in laundromats in low-income neighborhoods.
  • Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle, which co-creates exhibitions with community members, putting their voices and artifacts first.
  • Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts in San Francisco, which uses contemporary art to catalyze new ideas about how the city can move forward.
  • Queens Museum in New York, which activates deep partnerships in Corona Plaza.

 Learn more about this transformative project:

  • Why We’re Building Abbott Square (blogpost written by Nina Simon for her blog Museum 2.0)
  • In Santa Cruz? Come visit the MAH and Abbott Square.
  • Keen to host your own Pop Up Museum? You can use MAH’s Pop Up Museum Organizer’s kit, which offers tips and step-by-step advice on hosting Pop Up Museums.

More Precisely

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by cheyanne turions

Born in Harlem, James Baldwin was 63 years old when he died in 1987, his life bearing witness to significant social upheavals including the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960s, the Second World War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War, the gay liberation movement, and the emergence of AIDS. Just eight months before his death, British television host Mavis Nicholson interviewed Baldwin as part of her afternoon show Mavis on Four. A novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, Baldwin is perhaps best known for his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) and his essay collection The Fire Next Time (1963). In London for a remounting of his play The Amen Corner (1954), Baldwin joined Nicholson amongst a set of empty theatre seats. The footage is raw: a time code ticks the seconds away, noting that the edit begins eight minutes into recording. The conversation shows Baldwin ruminating on shifting distributions of social power and those that remain entrenched. He is irreverent, refusing to be sated by the revolutions he has witnessed for the deliverance he imagines. I cannot be sure why this interview, nearly 30 years old, re-entered circulation in November 2014, but with the title “Civil Rights” it is easy to register its resonance with contemporary events in the United States such as waves of protest against a racist, and specifically anti-Black, police state or the then-anticipated release of Ava Duvernay’s Selma (2014). It seems that Baldwin’s ideas again aggravate, push, and prod: this is not yet the world we dream of.

Nicholson is a provocative if somewhat naïve interlocutor, asking frank questions about racialization, religion, and sexuality, and Baldwin is an affable subject. And yet, the interview comes to be characterized by his consistent reframing of the assumptions embedded in her prompts. For instance, when Nicholson suggests that the terror Baldwin felt as a young man was because he is Black, he resists: it was because he was despised. The fear he felt was not properly related to the colour of his skin, but to the base reactions it elicited from peers who did not look like him. Baldwin’s point is that the pathology of racism belongs to the inner life of each of us, not to the observable facts of the world. And, while he never says this explicitly, it’s not a generalized racism but white supremacy in particular that allows for the social legibility of such hate, then and now.

This point is taken further when Nicholson tells a story about watching Baldwin’s play the week before the interview was taped and witnessing an interaction between two families. The patriarch of one family she describes as looking “intelligent…well-off…liberal” and the other family she describes as having a crying child and being Black. Nicholson suggests that the inherited history of “racial prejudice” prohibits the man whom she implies is white from telling off the Black family for bringing their child to the theatre. But again Baldwin stops her: “Why don’t you examine what does the word ‘racial’ mean. After all, everybody is a race of one kind or another. We’re not talking about racial prejudice; we talking about the structure of power. The structure of power that has the right and the duty to tell other people who they are for very dubious reasons. After all, one of the reasons I am Black is because I had to be Black in order to justify my slavery. That’s a part of my heritage and a part of yours too. It has nothing to do with race; it’s a way of avoiding history.” Against Nicholson’s proposal that this nearly missed confrontation between families is a moment of post-racial neutering, Baldwin insists that the white man will simply find another way to punish the Black family, a worse way. Perhaps Baldwin meant to imply a direct reaction—an admonishment of parenting capability or a slashed tire—though more likely he was invoking systemic distributions of power—higher rates of incarceration, widespread poverty, obstructed access to education. Seeming to function without leadership, these ongoing phenomena are actually the perfect manifestation of a white supremacist fear of difference. Baldwin knows he is being provocative when he says that “the hardest thing for any human being to do is to forgive someone they know they’ve wronged… [and so] white people live with the nightmare of the nigger they’ve invented.” Patterns of racial discrimination are not ever the proper consequences of whiteness or blackness, but rather a product of social conditioning, where white people are unjustifiably understood as superior to others, and where this unfounded belief then maintains systems of inequality that effect the social, economic, and political lives of all other people.

Baldwin refuses what Nicholson calls “racial prejudice.” On his terms, racial prejudice is nothing more than “the most abject cowardice” of those who occupy positions of power—politicians, citizens, the bourgeoisie—to self-reflexively understand their standing as historically informed and arising through subjugation. To the extent that material and political equality is possible, it will involve a recognition of how fear shapes every member of a society, and to address shifting political subjectivities through some kind of embodied relationship to this complex truth. Race is absolutely a lived reality despite the fact that it is not real, at least not biologically as is now generally accepted in scientific fields. And yet, there are countless social consequences tied to our differing historical, linguistic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Racism has become shorthand for acts of fear or hate that unfairly cast their provocation upon the body of the person who must bear their cruelty. Baldwin’s tactic refocuses agency upon the perpetrator. He doesn’t say it, but in his persistent refusal of Nicholson’s terms I read a refusal of racism. Racism is a way of describing structures of power, but it is not a thing unto itself, not the way the word is commonly used. More precisely, it is a system predicated upon an insidious kind of make-believe.

In this precision, the complexities between the “you” of Mavis Nicholson and the “I” of James Baldwin (and vice versa) are drawn out, placing the capacity for great social change upon them both as social actors capable of responses based in sentiments other than abject cowardice. However, that this nearly 30-year-old interview still so urgently resonates points to the fact that any real confrontation of racism will require systemic dismantling of white supremacist power structures. We can begin (one place amongst so many) by following Baldwin’s lead and engaging with the repercussions of language. We can consider, at the urging of poet and scholar Jackie Wang in her text Against Innocence, that “social, political, cultural and legal recognition [of Black people in North America] only happens when a person is thoroughly whitewashed, neutralized and made unthreatening…[and that] using ‘innocence’ as the foundation to address anti-Black violence is an appeal to the white imaginary.” We can refuse a rhetoric of innocence that serves to distance the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Pearlie Golden and Kathryn Johnston and Aiyanna Jones and Trayvon Martin and Nizah Morris from the murders of hundreds and hundreds of Black people each year by police officers in the USA. We can map how language works to obscure and deflect systemic exercises of power. We can use language more precisely, in order to reveal. And dismantle.

1] I am unable to find a more complete version of the interview.
2] From what I can tell, the footage was not available online until 01 November 2014, published on Youtube by ThamesTv and then circulated amongst aggregation sites. However, the footage remains relatively unseen, registering just over 4500 views as of 24 February 2015.
3] For discussions on the persistent myth of biological race see Merlin Chowkwanyun’s 2013 article “Race Is Not Biology,” published by The Atlantic here; Agustin Fuentes’s 2012 article “Race Is Real, but not the way Many People Think,” published by Psychology Today here; or UNESCO’s 1950 document “Statement by Experts on Race Problems,” found here.
4] Jackie Wang, Against Innocence (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2014), 7-8. The text is also available online here.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from the video Civil Rights—James Baldwin—Interview—Mavis on Four (1987), found here.

Thanks to Gina Badger and Pip Day for editorial support.


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cheyanne turions

Paradigm shift is not the evacuation of power, but rather its redistribution. Speaking at the University of Toronto in early February, feminist scholar Rosi Braidotti speculated on the impotence of the classical humanities to explain the entwined nature of contemporary life, offering instead the post-humanities as an intellectual paradigm worthy of the times. She calls the method cartographic, implying an immediate use-value to the practice (imagine the post-humanities as a kind of intellectual Google Maps) in order to counter the retrospective theorization associated with classical modes of humanities scholarship (like a map to a city that no longer stands). Braidotti’s philosophy is new to me and my understanding provisional, but I’m taking her up on an offer to think with her, to investigate the points of rupture she provoked in me: can we ever be post-human?

As a type of academic discipline, the humanities are concerned with “the study of human culture,” or how it is that we are social beings—through language, music, religion, philosophy, literature et cetera [1]. Here, the individual (constituted through various social systems) is understood as fundamental, and the humanities a practice of mapping explanatory paradigms back onto phenomena that is both produced by and produces specific forms of collectivity. But, as technology advances and as ecosystems collapse, the conceit at the heart of the humanities—the human as a suitable unit of measure to register the complexity of social co-existence—crumbles. In response, the burgeoning field of post-humanities examines culture in its embedded becoming alongside other agencies and orders, such as technology, the non-human animal, and the environment. In doing so, the post-humanities displaces anthropocentric arrogance as the gravitational force around which understandings are constructed. Key early texts in the field include Michele Serres’s The Parasite (1980) and Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto (1985), though the field of posthumanities did not congeal until much later, in the latter half of the Aughts. Cary Wolfe, the editor of the University of Minnesota Press’s Posthumanities series defines the whole endeavour as such: “When we talk about posthumanism, we are not just talking about a thematics of the decentering of the human in relation to either evolutionary, ecological, or technological coordinates (though that is where the conversation usually begins and, all too often, ends); rather…we are also talking about how thinking confronts that thematics, what thought has to become in the face of those challenges.” In practice, the posthumanities takes seriously the ethical consequences of how we humans think our relationship to non-humans, especially other animals and the environment; it considers how the field of disability studies forcefully challenges normative relationships between language and thought and identity; it explores the way the human experience is currently entwined in a mutual becoming with computer technologies.

Despite the critical self-reflection post-anthropocentrism generates (the human animal is greedy and violent, technologically mediated, and morally obligated to consider sustainability beyond our own species perpetuation), it does not offer an alternative orientation to knowledge production. At its best, post-anthropocentrism is a conceit. We do not suddenly become fluent in non-human ways of knowing by virtue of thinking it would be cool to do so. Even the gesture of prioritizing paradigms of understanding that diminish our self-importance still rely upon judgments made from the human perspective. At base, in a quest to position ourselves post-anthropocentrically, we must be suspicious of our capacity to think outside of our social conditioning and intellectual biases while simultaneously encouraging an awareness of what we may be otherwise be blinded to because of the nature of the self. Productively, this is to embody an interstitial space between anthropocentrism and its undoing: what is possible from this position of thwarted desire?

The limitations of cultural homogeneity were implicitly acknowledged in Braidotti’s lecture when she repeatedly pointed to non-western humanisms as “where it’s at.” This makes sense to me: I can trouble my western, euro-centric ways of knowing by inhabiting what Braidotti called trading zones: places where ideas are exchanged and disagreements occur. I can situate my intellectual activity as listening and I can attempt to increase the interdependencies between my patterns of knowing and other ways of making sense. But I’m really not sure how this resists becoming just another example of colonization, of seeking out the resources of other cultures and appropriating them for my own gain? There’s all of history to tell me that the human is a colonial machine, and to think that non-western humanisms can be utilized to recuperate the use-value of the humanities in the west is, once again, to use the resources of others cultures to rescue my own.

Listening to Braidotti’s lecture, I was was reminded of other instances where the demand for social change requires that I account for my own position within a shifting terrain in order to assume an appropriate and transformative responsibility. As protests swept across the US this winter to express outrage at the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, white people were asked to protest from their subject position: do not carry signs proclaiming that “I am Mike Brown,” but rather, carry signs that challenge white supremacy. As Braidotti encouraged me to recognize the value of destabilizing my own subject position in ways of knowing and relating, I kept asking myself: how to be post-human from the position I occupy as already always human? How to engage otherness in the key of anti-oppression? How can we translate what we already know about how we are human, in order to be post-human with a touch of grace?

[1] Carey Wolfe, What is Posthumanism? (Minnieapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), page xvi.

Image Credit: Shifty Packets by Colleen Wolstenholme


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Friday, May 29, 2015, 9:00 – 11:00 A.M.
SFU Woodward's - Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre
149 W Hastings St., Vancouver, BC, Canada


Can art challenge us to shift our economy to one that embraces sustainability, equality, and justice? Can we create local and global economies that are not only resilient and thriving but inclusive of everyone?

The Artist Round Table (A.RT) on New Economies brings together a diverse group of panellists who have provocative ideas about art, economy, and transformative change. Set within a staged 1983 corporate boardroom, the A.RT will kick off with a presentation by artist Marilou Lemmens about her collaborative, multidisciplinary practice with Richard Ibghy. Lemmens will present artistic projects that explore the ways in which the economic system pervades nearly every facet of our daily lives. In response, panellists from various fields will engage in a lively discussion, digging deeply into the issues at the heart of the duo’s practice. The panellists will draw on their experiences in the realms of art and culture, activism and citizenship, and sustainability and radical urbanism as they tell stories, debate ideas, and challenge each other and the audience with thought-provoking questions. The audience will be invited into a discourse on the emergence of a new economy and how art can be a driving force for social change.


Marilou Lemmens is a visual artist based in Durham-Sud and Montreal, Quebec where she works in collaboration with Richard Ibghy. Spanning various media, including video, performance, and installation, their work explores the material, affective, and sensory dimensions of experience that cannot be fully translated into signs or systems. For several years, they have examined the rationale upon which economic actions are described and represented, and how the logic of economy has come to infiltrate the most intimate aspects of life. Their work has been shown nationally and internationally, including at La Biennale de Montréal (Montreal, 2014), 27th Images Festival (Toronto, 2014), La Filature, Scène Nationale (Mulhouse, France, 2013-14), Centre for Contemporary Arts (Glasgow, 2012), and the 10th Sharjah Biennial (Sharjah, UAE, 2011), among others.


Community organizer, writer, and activist Matt Hern teaches at UBC and is known for his work in radical urbanism, community development, and alternative forms of education. He is founder of the Purple Thistle Centre, Car-Free Vancouver Day, and Groundswell: Grassroots Economic Alternatives.

An avid seeker of beauty, authentic connections, and learning, Cédric Jamet has been involved in a flurry of citizen-led projects, exploring the relationship between urban imaginary, active citizenship, and the co-creation of sustainable cities. Most recently, he helped start 100in1day in Montreal and is completing an M.A. in Human Systems Intervention from Concordia University.

Artist and cultural producer Todd Lester has dedicated his career to supporting and enabling socially engaged artists around the world. He is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and founder of both freeDimensional and



SFU Woodward's Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre
149 W Hastings St.Vancouver, BC, Vancouver, Canada

The Artist Round Table on New Economies is an experiment of Adjacent Possibilities, Musagetes, One Earth, and Cities for People. It is one in a series of international roundtables in which artists can share their ideas and projects with scientists, historians, Aboriginal leaders, policymakers, politicians, community organizers, and social movement leaders. Musagetes initially developed the A.RT approach in collaboration with Todd Lester.

Adjacent Possibilities
Adjacent Possibilities is a creative agency experimenting at the intersection of art, technology and society’s most complex challenges. We connect adjacent types of thinkers: artists, entrepreneurs, policy makers and others, to explore what possibilities might emerge from these unlikely combinations of thought in addressing daunting questions of human resilience. Our work is fuelled by a belief in our ingenuity as a species and includes the curation, design and production of exhibitions, facilitation of workshops and strategic planning, consulting on organizational strategy, and production of film and creative media.

One Earth is a nonprofit ‘think and do’ tank based in Vancouver, Canada. Our mission is to transform production and consumption patterns locally, nationally and internationally to be sustainable, healthy, and just within the limits of living systems. Our passion is bringing people, ideas and activities together to accelerate the transition towards sustainability - we catalyze networking and action on the issues we care about. One Earth adopts a systems approach to identify high-impact solutions, and engages the arts and citizens to create compelling visions of life in sustainable futures.

Musagetes logo
Musagetes, the curator of the Art and Society theme of Cities for People, is an international organization that makes the arts more central and meaningful in people’s lives, in our communities, and in our societies. The arts play a fundamental role in mediating our life experiences, making artistic creativity central to healthy, empathic, social, and conscientious ways of living. Art creates a space for thinking differently, for opening up new possibilities for ourselves and the world around us.

Cities for People
Cities for People, a grassroots movement that looks at the resilience and liveability of cities, asks the question: how can we enhance social, ecological, and economic well-being and help civic cultures thrive? We are approaching this from the perspectives of four themes: Art and Society, CityScapes, Citizen Spaces, and New Economies. Each of these themes has a curating organization that is gathering compelling stories, connecting people within and across fields, and experimenting with new ways to approach old problems.

Lead Image: Richard Ibghy & Marilou Lemmens, Is there anything left to be done at all? (2014), five-channel video, sound, sculpture, dimensions variable. Video still.

SIRC webinar #5: Art that changes the world

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About the webinar

Judith Marcuse’s webinar will explore the burgeoning connections between art, innovation, and social change by highlighting some of the work being done in communities across Canada and internationally that employ art-making as a central strategy. Her work explores the question of how we can use a cultural lens and arts-infused practices to create more dynamic, healthy and creative cities.

Marcuse will explore what it means to integrate art perspectives and practices into change agendas in order to inform and enrich our approaches to social innovation. She will also highlight her recent work with organizations such as Cirque du Soleil’s NGO, One Drop, and in strategic planning for the City of Vancouver.

Arts-infused facilitation and other arts-based strategies can effectively address the complexity of the many challenges we face in the development of cross-sector collaboration (and in many other forms of change work). Marcuse will share insights about partnerships between arts and non-arts organizations, as well as the role that arts facilitation can take in the creation of inclusive policy and governance models.

And, because we are in the realm of vision and imagination, she will share a few simple methods to help enliven our own work habits and perspectives.

Date: Tuesday, Feburary 24, 2015

Time: 12:00-1:00pm EST

Eventbrite - Art that changes the world

About Judith Marcuse


Judith Marcuse’s career spans more than 40 years of professional work as a dancer, choreographer, director, producer, teacher, writer, consultant and lecturer in Canada and abroad. She has created over 100 original works for live performance by dance, theatre and opera companies as well as for film and television and has produced seven large-scale, international arts festivals. Her repertory contemporary dance company toured extensively in Canada and abroad for 15 years, while also producing community residencies and youth programs. Among many initiatives her youth-focused, five-year, issue-based ICE, FIRE and EARTH projects involved thousands of youth in workshops, national touring, television production and community collaborations.

Founder and Co-Director of the International Centre of Art for Social Change, she is a Senior Fellow of Ashoka International. Among her many honours, she has received the Lee and Chalmers Canadian choreographic awards and an honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser University. She is an Adjunct Professor and Artist in Residence at SFU and is leading the ASC! Project, a five-year research initiative on art for social change in Canada.

Marcuse has pioneered the application of arts-infused dialogue and other creative approaches for cross-sector collaboration and consults for private and public sector organizations across Canada and abroad.

More than just fast food: the São Paulo lunch counter (a photo essay)

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Through the lens of a new location (2 of 2)

Text by Todd Lester
Photographs by Pedro Marques

In Part I of this blog, I wrote about the making of the project in my new city in Brazil. In São Paulo, lunch counters, or lanchonetes, are as ubiquitous as bodegas in New York City and café-tabacs in Paris. These are utilitarian, convenient, open storefronts, usually with a few plastic tables and chairs spilling out on the sidewalk, where customers can sit at the counter for a quick and cheap hot meal, or buy their phone cards and lottery tickets. In dense areas of the city, there may be five lunch counters at one single intersection, with their sidewalk patrons often mixing indiscriminately. However, a person’s lanchonete of choice is determined by its location, speed of service, and perhaps the distinct flavor of its feijoada (a traditional Brazilian stew served on Wednesdays and Saturdays). It is in the lanchonete where a broad cross-section of Brazilian society literally rubs shoulders. This is especially true in the dense area of São Paulo’s Center.

At one point in the planning of, I found that I was having a hard time explaining to non-Brazilians the significance of the lanchonete. Therefore, I invited local photographer Pedro Marques to walk with me through the city and, together, capture the essence—and particularities—of the typical lanchonete … in all shapes in sizes. What follows are photos from that day.







_MG_9057Frutomar copy





_MG_9091Rua Prado_2

Dawn of the Anthropocene: Livestream melting ice sculpture Sept. 21

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An artistic intervention on the occasion of the Peoples’ Climate March and the Climate Summit  (New York City). This event has now ended. See below for the time lapse.

On September 21, 2014, artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese present Dawn of the Anthropocene a large-scale ice sculpture of the words “The Future.” The sculpture is 21 feet long, 5 feet high and weighs 2000 pounds. It will melt throughout the day taking anywhere from 8 to 24 hours to disappear.

The artists call these events “temporary monuments” filming and photographing them throughout the process of their disappearance. They stream the sculpture’s transformation live on the website meltedaway to expand the site specificity of it. The website becomes an expanded documentary incorporating internet, video interviews, photography and text allowing viewers off-site to experience the piece in a multiplicity of ways.

This use of media has been an integral part of Ligorano Reese’s temporary monuments from their inception drawing on the sculpture event’s performative character and taking inspiration from Josef Beuy’s concept of “social sculpture.” Dawn of the Anthropocene will be the first temporary monument to offer the video stream to other websites as an embedded feed. The artists are using an array of social media platforms to present the event live including Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and Instagram, which is also available for embedding.

The artists will offer short-term writers’ residencies during the event for journalists, poets, and essayists, and an open mic will also be provided so that the writers and general public can share their views on the climate during the livestream each hour, on the hour.  All media is posted on the meltedaway website at the end of the process in order to form an accessible archive of this public action in the service of climate justice and safeguarding our ecosystems.

Text by Marshall Reese, Nora Ligorano and Todd Lester.

Todd Lester is an associate producer of the event for Cities for People, Art & Society Team.  Just last week Todd worked together with Musagetes and the Art & Society Team of Cities for People to pilot the Artist Round Table (A.R.T.) approach with Mark Prier.  Prier's artistic practice elicits dialogue on the environment, sustainability, the climate and ecological concerns broadly.

Time lapse video:

On Joining The Arts & Society Team of Cities for People

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by Todd Lester

Hi, my name is Todd Lester and while I come from Tennessee and—somehow—live between New York City and São Paulo, I’ve been working with Canadian partners to build and strengthen multilateral projects for the last ten years. For nearly the same length of time, I have co-hosted yearly conferences dealing with pertinent issues in art and society on Wasan Island in the beautiful Muskoka Lakes of Ontario. These summer meetings are organized under the aegis of freeDimensional, an organization I founded that helps artists- and activists-in-distress by providing safe havens in the form of artist residencies. The participants of these meetings on Wasan are artists who are passionate about social issues and who focus on those concerns in their art practices. Many of the participating artists are stakeholders of freeDimensional (which means that they have accessed our distress services); these are artists who live in repressive countries under harsh conditions or who are in the process of fleeing to a new location in order to avert danger. While I no longer work daily at freeDimensional, I recently helped design a series of Culture Worker Safety Workshops, which have recently been piloted in Mexico City and Tegucigalpa. By taking part in the organization’s evolution, I am reminded that its most essential function is (and has always been) to serve as an intermediary, connecting artists to resources during critical—if not dangerous—moments of their practice.













At the same time, artists in North America and Europe grapple with the same societal issues and themes in their work yet experience different setbacks—for instance rather than fear for personal safety, they may struggle with distance, lack of professional infrastructure and financial resources, or information asymmetry. These barriers can isolate them from other artists who are working on the same issues. Such obstacles can also sap precious time and limited resources; scarce assets that once spent may mean that an artist can no longer afford to focus on a pressing issue that they care deeply about. freeDimensional has identified and fills a gap in civil society by recognizing and supporting the arts and artists as important agents of social change. However, artists—the world over—do not always see themselves as activists. Thus, they may not have immediate access to activist resources when they are confronted by emergency situations. Providing artists with such resources ensures that they have the endurance and continuity that is essential to the work that they are trying to achieve.


As I move forward in my own career, I can see that I have been preoccupied with an intermediary role in most of my work—as I built the ResSupport project of ResArtis, co-conceived the Rockwood Leadership Institute’s Fellowship for Leaders in Arts and Culture, directed the Global Arts Corps, and helped the president of the World Policy Institute to shift the organizational culture of a 50-year old think tank in order to incubate collaborations between artists and policymakers. Fast-forward to my present role in Cities for People through the Arts & Society Team: I hope to acknowledge—and demystify—the intermediary function of art workers in society.

Todd Lester is an artist and cultural producer. He has worked in leadership, advocacy and strategic planning roles at Global Arts Corps, Reporters sans frontiers, and Astraea Lesbian Justice Foundation. He founded freeDimensional and Lanchonete.orga new project focused on the center of São Pauloand serves on the board of arts, rights and literary organizations in India, Mexico, Brazil and the US as well as the Arts & Society Team of Cities for People in Canada.    

Art Hives: A Vision to Have One in Every Community in Canada

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By Janis Timm-Bottos

Introductory Remarks at the Art Hives Symposium in Montreal on June 13-15, 2014

It is appropriate that we begin this journey together here in a grey nun’s house (1871). Whether religion plays a role in your life or not there is a fascinating story to tell. Before the grey nuns became the “tipsy sisters” in 1730 they were homemakers, mothers and widows. Like many mothers who came before them and those who came after, they sought to do everything in their power to make their community a better place for themselves, their children and other women who were disabled, widowed or without family support.

The women used every possible means to fund Canada’s first public homeplace. Funds were requested from the king of France and then when necessary, the king of England, (because loyalty was trumped only by their vision), donations and materials from their surrounding community was exchanged, an apple orchard planted and a mill rebuilt to grow necessary plants for food and craft. The handmade played a paramount role then, as it does now. The women and men participated in vernacular art work created daily. Bees wax candles, hand sewn uniforms, tents, fishing nets and embroidered ornaments to bring to aboriginal leaders. Later paper mache statues and butter molds were added. Their entrepreneurial spirit, led by Mother D’Youville made the solidarity work possible. 284 years later we are still trying to make these same environments inclusive, more sustainable and engaging through our dreams and hard work.

Combining our efforts will be important as we move forward with our research. Conducting evidence-based research to prove how and why the art hive is an exceptional healing environment is primarily hampered by access to advanced technology. We know from our experiences that these spaces inspire a greater sense of belonging and provide a safe place to experience vulnerability and interdependence. Neuroscience is on our side.  And the collection and analysis of brain research by Dr. Allen Schore has given us ways to speak about the work we do.

We are ALL relational creatures. From birth, our brains depend on a special type of relationship with another human being, usually our mother or primary caregiver, in order to fully develop. This back and forth communication is then repeated throughout our lifetime with many different people in many different types of environments, some more conducive to healing than others. The art hive provides two key elements required for healing: an intentionally safe and creative space where new ways of thinking and being can be practiced, and multiple studio relationships in which small but potent moments replicate that early infant-caregiver dance. These relationships are highly supportive, happen in a moment often in nonverbal ways, and can rebuild ruptured connections slowly over time.  Those of us who may be worn down by issues of poverty, mental illness, or a wide range of other stigmatizing and or traumatic experiences and may also have difficulty connecting, finally have a chance to experience an anchor, a lifeline, in these safe spaces.  In addition, the art hive is a place to practice kind regard and provide multiple opportunities for generously sharing mastery of skills.

Thank you for taking this journey with us. We are here to connect, share our stories and through collaboration and network weave a net across Canada supporting small grass roots community-based studios with the intention of coming together to co-create a larger vision. Knowing who is here, enthusiastically bringing your experience and wisdom gives me an amazing sense of hopefulness and solidarity. Please bring your work forward so we may hook together a potential that could make a very big change happen. The vision is clear, an art hub in every community across Canada is possible and we are here to come up with a plan and take our next steps together.

Twenty students have just completed a 5-week intensive on community art studio methods and materials. They join making 72 students who have worked hard to shift and expand their ways of knowing. They are prepared to go forth and multiple art hives!

Please join me in welcoming a few of them to perform for you this evening

How Art Makes Us and Our Cities More Resilient

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By Shawn Van Sluys

Art creates a space for thinking differently. When people encounter, participate in, and co-create art, they explore and interpret their feelings, memories, longings, and responses to their environments. Something happens in this personal exploration—something that is powerful and instinctual. Our lives are a continual succession of deep engagements with the world; these experiences can disrupt our existence, transform our sense of self, and contribute to our sense of belonging and meaningfulness. The arts play a fundamental role in mediating our life experiences, making artistic creativity central to healthy, empathic, social, and conscientious ways of living. The Cities for People movement believes this is how art contributes to the resilience of our cities, our communities, and neighbourhoods.

But art doesn’t only illustrate a desire for resilience or ways in which other aspects of society enhance resilience; it has to shift our collective consciousness towards it. This consciousness is greater than social engagement—even more than just a sense of belonging—it is an awareness of injustices, of that which doesn’t make sense to the betterment of our humanity in relation to the world and to other beings.

Musagetes, the curator of the Art and Society theme of Cities for People, works to make the arts more central and meaningful in peoples’ lives, in communities, and in cities. In 2012, Musagetes worked with Rotterdam-based artists Bik Van der Pol to create a concert series on black rocks throughout Sudbury. The project, titled Between a Rock and a Hard Place, consisted of eleven concerts over eleven hours on eleven different black rocks in and around the city. Hundreds of participants moved from site to site, creating a cultural map of the city. They celebrated young musicians and the northern landscape, and contrasted that with the sublime and complex mining infrastructure that dominates Sudbury’s identity.

One concert participant had this to say about the experience: “We were invited to that beautiful nowhere to glimpse at what has been created by and for the youth of Sudbury to act out their years in whatever ways they can come up with. I hope to embark on an adventure of rediscovery, to see this city as I would like it to be.” This is how art makes our cities more resilient.