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.